May 13, 2010
By Sarah Tarasewicz
HOUSTON, Texas (UCFAthletics.com) - Junior Abby McClain (Waterloo, Iowa) hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the first inning to lift the UCF (34-20, 16-7 C-USA) softball team to a 4-2 win over UTEP (31-24, 11-13 C-USA) in the opening round of the Conference USA Championship Thursday afternoon at Cougar Softball Stadium. With the victory, the Knights advance to the semifinal round of the tournament against Memphis, who upset No. 2-seed Tulsa earlier in the day, Friday at 12 p.m. ET.
"All I wanted to do when I stepped up to the plate was just have a solid at bat," McClain said. "Tiffany (Lane) and Hillary (Barrow) did a great job of getting on base, so I just wanted to do my part to bring them in and score some runs, it just-so-happened that it went over the fence."
The Black and Gold only had three hits in the quarterfinal contest, but relied on heads-up base running, timely hits and the always-consistent arm of senior Ashleigh Cole (Pace, Fla.) to pull out its fourth-consecutive victory over the Miners in its last four games and its 34th win of the season.
"UTEP is a very solid-hitting team and we knew coming into this game that it was going to be tough to beat them for the fourth time in the span of a week," head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said. "Ashleigh was able to do a great job of keeping them off-balance last week and we knew if we did the same thing in today's game that we could let our offense take care of the rest."
Cole allowed only two runs on four hits, while striking out seven in her 29th complete-game outing of the year to tally the win in the circle for the Knights. The senior enters the semifinals with a 22-12 record on the mound and a 1.54 ERA.
"We struggled a little in the top of the first inning," Cole said. "But once Abby hit that home run we were right back in the game. From there we just went to work and our confidence just kept growing throughout the game."
But, it was not without the help of McClain behind the plate that Cole earned the victory, as the catcher-pitcher duo were in sync and performing on all cylinders in the league-tournament opener.
"It was tough for us today in the first inning to get the kind of rhythm we were looking for because they had seen Cole twice already this week," McClain said. "I think we were doing too much of the same thing in the first inning, but after that, we really mixed it up, were on the same page and Cole was able to pitch lights out for the rest of the game."
At the plate, McClain led the Knights with a hit, a home run, three RBI, one run scored and a walk, while Tiffany Lane (Moreno Valley, Calif.) and Morgan Bullard (Columbia, S.C.) each tallied hits for the Black and Gold.
Even though she did not have a hit in her stat line, senior Hillary Barrow (Miami, Fla.) found other ways to get on base and make things happen for the designated home team. Barrow scored two runs for UCF, while also stealing a pair of bases, both of which eventually led to runs for her squad.
"We did a great job running the bases today," Luers-Gillispie said. "It was the heads up plays on the basepaths that put us in the position to win the game and put runs on the board. "
For the first time in their last four games facing UTEP, the Knight had to play from behind after the Miners posted two runs on three hits in the top of the first inning.
"I think it shows a lot from us that even though we were down by two runs in the first inning we were able to regroup and let our offense go to work," Barrow said. "We scored a lot of runs on them last weekend, so we had confidence that we would be able to come back and do the same today."
But, it was no sweat for McClain as she gave UCF a one-run lead with one swing of the bat, cranking a three-run home run over the left field fence in the bottom half of the frame. Lane led off the inning with a single to the left side, before advancing to second base on a sacrifice hit off the bat of Natalie Land (Mayo, Fla.). Barrow walked to put two runners on with only one out, before a double steal advanced the runners to second and third. That is when McClain put one out of the park to make the score, 3-2, through one inning.
Barrow made it all the way to second base on a throwing error by UTEP's third baseman with one out to start off the bottom of the third, before McClain put two runners on after drawing a walk. Barrow stole third base to put runners on the corners and on the next play, McClain attempted to steal second base with Cole in the batter's box. On the throw down to second, Barrow took off for home, sliding in safely to give the Knights a two-run advantage.
The Miners put a runner on in the final inning with one out, but a 1-6-3 double play ended the contest and sent UCF into the C-USA semi-finals.
All of UCF's contests at the C-USA Championship will be streamed live on All-Access, have live radio coverage and may also be followed on Gametracker. All events will be available on UCFAthletics.com.
For the latest news on the Knights, log on to www.UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit www.UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.