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UCF softball shut out in series opener against No. 2 Texas

UCF softball coach Cindy Ball-Malone didn’t mince words with her team entering this season.

The Knights were coming off an American Athletic Conference championship (2022) and three straight postseason appearances, including an NCAA Super Regional in 2022.

But heading to the Big 12, Ball-Malone knew things would be different, especially playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country.

“Last year we played well enough to win every game,” said Ball-Malone. “We told them [the players] as a coaching staff that it’s not good enough just to be good and have good people. You have to be good at what you do.”

It’s been a learning experience for the Knights (14-12, 2-5 Big 12), who won their first Big 12 series against Kansas (March 8-10) before dropping a 3-game series to No. 4 Oklahoma State (March 15-17).

On Friday, the Knights opened a three-game series against No. 2 Texas (26-3, 6-1), losing 5-0 before a sellout crowd at the UCF Softball Complex. Fans crowded the outfield fences to take in the showdown with the red-hot Longhorns.

Texas jumped on starter Kaitlyn Felton (6-3), who faced seven batters in the first inning. The junior surrendered RBI singles from second baseman Alyssa Washington and shortstop Viviana Martinez as the Longhorns took a 2-0 lead.

UT pitcher Teagan Kavan (11-1), who entered the weekend ranked fifth in the Big 12 in strikeouts (61), held the Knights without a hit through the first three innings.

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A throwing error by shortstop Jasmine Williams, followed by a hit and a double steal, chased Felton from the game in the third inning. She was replaced by Angelina DeVoe, who gave up a 2-run triple to third baseman Mia Scott and an RBI sacrifice to designated hitter Joley Mitchell to push the lead to five runs.

UCF third baseman Jada Cody broke up the no-hitter in the bottom of the fourth with a single down the right-field line with two outs before pinch hitter Sona Halajian grounded out to end the threat.

The Knights had runners in scoring position in the sixth and bases loaded in the seventh but couldn’t damage Felton, who pitched her sixth complete game.

“We showed really good fight at the end,” said DeVoe, who gave up 1 run on 2 hits. “That attests to what we can do and how we can apply pressure on these teams.”

Added Ball-Malone: “We make a few plays here and there and the seventh thing is maybe a 2-0 game instead of a 5-0 game. We play that differently, and they play a little tighter.”

Texas entered Friday’s game as the league’s top-hitting team with a .399 average. The Longhorns had batted .296 (8 of 27) but .375 with runners in scoring position.

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Kavan kept UCF batters on their heels most of the game. The Knights hit .192 (5 of 26), including 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position.

“We just could do a better job of being disciplined to our plan,” said DeVoe. “So either hitting the ball on the ground hard or having tougher outs, but she threw a good game.”

Third baseman Jada Cody, who went 2 for 3, said she believes playing talented teams like Texas will only benefit the Knights as they move on.

“We want to go to the [College] World Series, so we have got to play the best of the best,” said Cody. “I’m glad we’re getting tested now in a conference, so the postseason doesn’t feel like something new to us.”

UCF has lost five straight games, leaving some concerns for Ball-Malone.

“We’re hanging in there and competitive,” she said. “But morale-wise, we have got to come up with few wins or else I don’t want them to go the other way.”

The Knights return for Game 2 of the series on Saturday, with the first pitch at 2 p.m. and Game 3 on Sunday at noon. Both games are sold out but will air on ESPN+.

Matt Murschel can be reached at moc.lenitnesodnalro@lehcsrumm

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