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UCF softball hopes to make impression in first Big 12 Tournament

UCF softball is embarking on another milestone.

It is entering this week’s Big 12 softball tournament and is looking to significantly impact its inaugural season in the conference.

The Knights (30-22, 12-15 Big 12) earned the fifth seed and a first-round bye and will face No. 4 Baylor (31-19, 14-13 Big 12) in the quarterfinals on Thursday (8:30 p.m., ESPN+) at Oklahoma City’s OGE Field at Devon Park.

The winner of this crucial match advances to Friday’s semifinals (7:30 p.m., ESPN+), where they would face No. 1 Texas (45-6, 23-4) vs. Iowa State/Texas Tech winner, setting the stage for a thrilling showdown.

The championship is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2), and the winner will earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division I softball championship.

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UCF has won at least 30 games in the past four seasons and five of the six years under coach Cindy Ball-Malone. The Knights have qualified for the NCAA Tournament in the past three seasons, advancing to the Super Regional in 2022.

While the program enjoyed success in the American Athletic Conference, capped with conference championships in 2015 and ’22, this first season in the Big 12 has certainly had its ups and downs.

The team suffered through a seven-game losing streak in mid-March, and the Knights dropped back-to-back series to then-No. 4 Oklahoma State and then-No. 2 Texas.

UCF bounced back to win 12 of its next 13 games, taking series from Texas Tech, BYU and Houston.

The Knights faced big moments and outfielder Chloe Evans was one of those players who understood Power 5 pressure first hand.

Evans, a seasoned player who hails from Wisconsin, played two seasons in the Big Ten while at Minnesota.

“I knew what those big moments felt like, playing in those big games, those big rivalry games,” said Evans. “I feel like the Big 12 was a little bit different. It felt like every game was a rivalry game. You had this intense competition between every single team, no matter who you were playing.”

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Evans, who is in her final season, batted .315 with 7 home runs and 37 RBI in 52 games.

“We did a good job of trying to play at teams all year,” she said. “We remembered to play within ourselves and remembered that all the games are really big and really important.”

Pitcher Sarah Willis wrapped up her second and final season with the Knights, finishing with a 2.39 ERA and a 9-9 record in 20 starts.

“Moving from the AAC to the Big 12, it’s been a big jump,” said Willis. “I feel like I’ve been preparing myself for it. I came in and did way better than people thought I would do. I’m proud of myself and the team.

“We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’ve kept our fight and given people a run for their money.”

Baylor swept its three-game series with UCF on April 19-20, 2-1, 1-0, and 1-0. In the losses, the Knights were 12-for-73 (.164) with 17 strikeouts. Evans went 2-for-8 (.250) with a home run, while Willis went winless in two complete games, giving up 3 runs on 7 hits, 3 walks and 8 strikeouts.

“We’ve not reached our potential as a team,” said Willis. “We’ve had moments where our pitching was great, our defense was great and our offense was great, but if we can bring it all together and have a solid seven innings then we’re just as good as any team in the Big 12.”

Added Evans: “We can’t make things bigger than they are, and we have to stay within ourselves whoever is on the other side.”

Matt Murschel can be reached at moc.lenitnesodnalro@lehcsrumm

Big 12 softball tournament

FIRST ROUND (Wednesday)

Game 1: No. 7 Kansas vs. No. 10 Houston, 6 p.m., ESPN+

Game 2: No. 8 Texas Tech vs. No. 9 Iowa State, 8:30 p.m., ESPN+


Game 3: No. 6 BYU vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State, Noon, ESPN+

Game 4: Game 1 winner vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m., ESPN+

Game 5: Game 2 winner vs. No. 1 Texas, 6 p.m., ESPN+

Game 6: No. 4 Baylor vs. No. 5 UCF, 8:30 p.m., ESPN+


Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 6 p.m., ESPN+

Game 8: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 8:30 p.m., ESPN+


Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2

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