ORLANDO, Fla. – A two-run first inning combined with two hits, including a home run, two runs scored, and a game-saving defensive play by Natalie Land led UCF to a 4-3 victory over East Carolina on Sunday as the Knights (26-10, 6-3 C-USA) completed the series sweep. The Pirates (15-20, 3-6 C-USA) trailed 4-1 going into the top of the seventh, scored twice in the frame on RBI singles by senior Priscilla Velasquez and sophomore Jordan Lewis and had the tying run on third with the go-ahead run on second base, but a diving stop by Land at shortstop and the throw to first had the Knights hold on for the win.
Freshman Courtney Smith (3-9) threw the first three-and-two-thirds innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and a walk. She also struck out one. Velasquez entered for the next inning-and-a-third, surrendering two hits. Freshman Sarah Christian pitched the sixth and allowed one run on one hit and a walk. UCF’s Ali Schmidt (8-2) stymied the ECU offense for the first six innings, scattering nine hits and three walks while fanning a pair and giving up just an unearned run. Mackenzie Audas entered for the start of the seventh and recorded one out but gave up three hits and two earned runs. Schmidt came back in for the final two outs.
The Knights wasted little time before scoring, taking a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. After a groundout started the frame, Vanessa Perez doubled to left and Farrah Sullivan singled through the left side to put runners on the corners. Pinch runner Lauren Aldridge entered for Sullivan and on the first pitch to Alena Murgatroyd, Aldridge took off for second base. Junior catcher Kai Clark made the throw toward second, but the ball bounced into center field, allowing Perez to score and moving Aldridge to third. Murgatroyd then singled to center to drive in Aldridge for the two-run advantage. Smith quickly ended the inning with consecutive pop outs.
East Carolina loaded the bases in the top of the second, but could not push across a run. Velasquez started the inning with a single to center field. Lewis attempted a sacrifice bunt, but Velasquez was thrown out at second on the play. With Lewis on first after the fielder’s choice, sophomore Alex Fieldhouse drew a four-pitch walk and Clark beat out a high chopper to Schmidt to load the bases with one down. Schmidt bounced back with a pop out and fly out to end the threat.
UCF added another run in the bottom of the third to take a 3-0 advantage. Land led off with a single to left center, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a Sullivan double to right. Smith struck out Murgatroyd and ended the frame with a pop out.
In the bottom of the fourth the Knights had another opportunity, but were held off the board. Kahley Novak led off with a single to center field and moved to second on a groundout. After a fly out, Madeline Schroeder bounced a ball in front of home plate and beat Clark’s throw to first for a single that put runners on the corners with two outs. Schroeder stole second and Land walked to load the bases. Velasquez entered to pitch for Smith and Perez flew out to center, closing the inning.
After escaping the bases-loaded jam, the Pirates had a chance to close the gap in the top of the fifth but failed to convert. Sophomore Jill Jelnick started the inning with a single just off the glove of a jumping Novak at second base. Classmate Kristi Oshiro followed with an infield single to Sullivan at third. A sacrifice bunt by senior Suzanne Riggs moved the pair up a base, but two pop outs to Land at shortstop kept ECU off the board.
UCF loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth before East Carolina’s 14 double play of the season helped the Pirates avoid damage. With the bases full and no outs, Novak swung at the first pitch and lined out to Oshiro at second. She turned and threw to Fieldhouse at third to double off Sullivan. A wild pitch by Velasquez moved the two remaining runners up a base each, but a pop out ended the threat.
East Carolina scored its first run with a two-out rally in the top of the sixth. With the bases clear and two down, Clark registered her career-high-tying third hit of the contest with a single up the middle. She moved to second on a passed ball before sophomore pinch hitter Rebecca Lee drew a walk. The fourth ball to Lee was a passed ball that advanced Clark to third base. A wild pitch brought Clark home and sent Lee to second. Jelnick followed with a single back to Schmidt in the circle that put runners on the corners. Oshiro grounded out to third to keep it a two-run game.
The Knights quickly got the run back in the bottom of the frame with a two-out solo home run to left by Land.
ECU scored twice in the seventh, but it was not enough to extend the game. With one out, sophomore Jasmine Robbins singled to left field and moved to second on an illegal pitch. A wild pitch moved Robbins to third and she scored on a Velasquez single to right center. Sophomore Abby Wynne entered to pinch run for Velasquez and advanced to second on another Audas illegal pitch. Lewis followed with a single to center that plated Wynne and made it a 4-3 contest. Schmidt re-entered and walked Fieldhouse before Clark grounded out to the circle, moving both runners up a base. Lee hit a hard shot toward left center, but Land dove, made the stop and fired to first for the out to seal the victory.
The Pirates return to action Wednesday with a 5:00 p.m. doubleheader at N.C. State (15-21). The Wolfpack won both games in Greenville last year, topping East Carolina 2-1 and 5-4 in 11 innings.
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