Softball season is BACK!!! After a 3-2 opening weekend in Clearwater at the NFCA Leadoff Classic saw the Tigers beat then-no. 8 Northwestern 6-1, Fordham 13-3 (6 innings) and Prairie View A&M 11-0 (5 innings) and lose to then-no. 6 Texas 11-1 and Louisville 4-0, the Tigers are continuing their extensive business trip in The Sunshine State with a stopover in Orlando, Florida to take on the UCF Knights. Let’s get started.
WHEN: Wednesday, February 15 at 5 p.m. CT
WHERE: UCF Softball Complex, Marita Hynes Field | Orlando, Fla.
UCF and Mizzou last met up just a few seasons ago in February 2021, where MU outlasted UCF 6-5 in Orlando. As this was during HCLA’s tenure, we’ll discuss. The Tigers went ahead on a 5-run 2nd inning, before giving 5 runs right back in the 3rd. The Tigers added another in the 4th, and that was the deciding factor. It appears they’ve only played one other time since then (in February 2015), and the series sits tied 1-1.
2022 RECORD: 38-22, 12-11 (7th in SEC)
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 8th in SEC
RANKING: #23 (ESPN.com/USA Softball), #26 (NFCA), NR (D1 Softball), #25 (Softball America)
2023 TOP OFFENSIVE PERFORMERS:
- Jenna Laird: .500 BA | 18 AB | 7 R | 9 H | 1 2B | 1 3B | 2 RBI | .667 SLG% | .526 OB%
- Vanessa Hollingsworth: .300 BA | 10 AB | 4 R | 3 H | 2 RBI | .300 SLG% | 4 BB | .533 OB%
- Julia Crenshaw: .278 BA | 18 AB | 3 R | 5 H | 2 2B | 1 HR | 4 RBI | .556 SLG% | .278 OB%
- Alex Honnold: .273 BA | 11 AB | 5 R | 3 H | 1 HR | 6 RBI | .545 SLG% | 6 BB | .526 OB%
- Chantice Phillips: .267 BA | 15 AB | 1 R | 4 H | 5 RBI | .250 SLG% | 1 BB | .333 OB%
2023 PITCHING STATS:
- Cierra Harrison: 0.00 ERA | 0.38 WHIP | 2-0 record | 8.0 IP | 2 H | 0 R | 0 ER | 1 BB | 14 SO | 0.077 Opp BA
- Taylor Pannell: 0.00 ERA | 1.0 IP | 2 SO | 3 AB | .000 Opp BA
- Megan Schumacher: 2.63 ERA | 1.88 WHIP | 5.1 IP | 8 H | 5 R | 2 ER | 2 BB | 2 SO | 1 HR | .333 Opp BA
- Laurin Krings: 2.71 ERA | 1.35 WHIP | 10.1 IP | 1 CG | 11 H | 5 R | 4 ER | 3 BB | 4 SO | 1 HR | .275 Opp BA
- Jordan Weber: 8.84 ERA | 2.37 WHIP | 6.1 IP | 14 H | 9 R | 8 ER | 1 BB | 4 SO | 6 XBH | .438 Opp BA
- D1 Softball Top 80 Freshmen Names to Know: Cierra Harrison, P
- Jenna Laird: 2023 USA Softball Collegiate POY Watchlist, 2023 Preseason All-SEC, no. 14 on D1 Softball SEC Power Rankings, No. 8 SS in D1 Softball Top 100; 2023 NFCA Leadoff Classic All-Tournament Team
- The team hit .305 over the weekend but did leave 27 on base. The normally highly effective defense struggled with 5 credited errors, but there appeared to be more miscues than this.
- Check out the top half of my links post from Wednesday morning to see what all HCLA had to say earlier this week!
- Jenna Laird, ladies and gents. What a gal. She killed it this past weekend, and no one should be surprised. From Coach’s press conference:
“What makes her so successful, though, is her ability to have amnesia when she plays. She doesn’t carry that to the next step. And she doesn’t get too emotional about it. You have no idea she was 4-for-4. She plays consistently every single time she is so unbelievably reliable. She has the green light in every aspect in offense and bass running, whatever she needs to do. Jenna has such an amazing feel for what is being called upon and what she needs to do... I hope I can continue to coach players like Jenna Laird.”
- Laurin Krings had a helluva performance against NW. On what Coach saw:
The difference I’m seeing in her she’s dominating both sides of the plate. She has been traditionally just living on the outer half to righties and lefties. But now she’s able to work both sides of the plate. And what is going to make her extremely successful is her changeup. If she doesn’t have her changeup, she’s easier to hit because she’s just consistently throwing one speed and that’s hard. And if you put the bat on 70 miles an hour, it’s gonna go. So she has to be able to establish that changeup. And when she gets it at the bottom of the zone, she’s extremely tough to hit. That’s what she did extremely well against Northwestern. She established that changeup early in the count, which kept them off balance, and now they got caught in between speeds.”
Here’s some info on Mizzou’s mid-week opponent:
2022 RECORD: 49-14, 16-2 AAC
2023 RECORD: 3-1
PROJECTED CONFERENCE FINISH: 2nd, AAC
RANKING: #20 (ESPN.com/USA Softball), #20 (NFCA), #19 (D1 Softball), #18 (Softball America)
2022 TOP PERFORMERS:
2023 TOP PERFORMERS:
- Chloe Evans: .545 BA | 1.706 OPS | 11 AB | 5 R | 6 H | 2 2B | 1 HR | 5 RBI | 1.091 SLG% | .615 OB%
- Shannon Doherty: .500 BA | 1.071 OPS | 12 AB | 1 R | 6 H | 2 RBI | .500 SLG% | .571 OB%
- Micaela Macario: .444 BA | 1.167 OPS | 9 AB | 1 R | 4 H | 2 2B | .667 SLG% | .500 OB%
- Kennedy Searcy: .417 BA | 1.167 OPS | 12 AB | 2 R | 5 H | 1 2B | 1 HR | 4 RBI | .750 SLG% | .417 OB%
- Jasmine Williams: .308 BA | .923 OPS | 13 AB | 2 R | 4 H | 1 2B | 1 HR | 1 RBI | .615 SLG%
- Kaitlyn Felton: 0.00 ERA | 0.88 WHIP | 2-0 | 1 CG | 1 SV | 11.1 IP | 4 H | 2 R | 0 ER | 6 BB | 17 So | 2 2B | .105 Opp BA
- Angelina DeVoe: 2.47 ERA | 0.71 WHIP | 1-1 | 5.2 IP | 3 H | 3 R | 2 ER | 1 BB | 4 SO | 1 2B | 0.158 Opp BA
- D1 Softball Top 80 Freshmen Names to Know: Aubrey Evans, INF
- D1 Softball AAC Player Power Rankings: 2. Jada Cody | 5. Shannon Doherty | 6. Kennedy Searcy | 8. Haley Morgan | 12. Chloe Evans | 13. Micaela Marcario | 16. Joneisha Rowe | 17. Sarah Willis
- Preseason All-American: Jada Cody (D1 first team, SA third team)
- OPENING WEEKEND FOR THE KNIGHTS: UCF is coming off a 3-1 opening weekend with wins over UMass (7-1), Boise State (9-8), and Ohio State (1-0), as well as a loss to no. 15 UGA (2-4). Minnesota transfer Chloe Evans is the one to watch, but as you can see from the stats above, the Knights have a lot of offensive capabilities. They seemed to hit everything this weekend. Not listed, you’ll notice is Jada Cody, who is off to a rather pedestrian start so far in this young season, hitting only .250 in her 12AB. She did score 4 runs, however, and managed 2 walks and 3 hits, one of which was a triple, but she’s not currently at the level of the others.
- RETURNING: Kennedy Searcy, who broke her hamate bone last season, is back, as is Kaitlyn Felton, who pitched sparingly last year due to a labral injury sustained in high school.
- KEY DEPARTURES: UCF’s two best pitchers, Gianna Mancha and Kama Woodall, who combined for 323 of UCF’s 419.1 innings pitched last season, graduated and the Knights are looking for quality replacements to shoulder the workload.
- ADDITIONS: The Knights are welcoming in 10 new players this season, including 7 freshmen and 3 transfers. Chloe Evans arrives from Minnesota, where she started 54g and led the team in RBI. Pitcher/UTIL Sarah Willis arrives from UW, where she made 4 appearances last season and also had 4 multi-game hits. Former First Team All-PAC 12 Jasmine Williams arrives from Oregon, having taken last season to raise her son. “She is a mother and a wife, and she is just killing it on the field and in the classroom. I don’t know how she does it,” Ball-Malone said. “She has just always got a smile on her face and is always positive. There is never an issue. It’s amazing to see that from such a young person.”
- Freshman Aubrey Evans could share time at SS, is one of the program’s highest-ranked recruits, and per D1 Softball, she actually played baseball for nine years before switching to softball in high school. Nehanda Lewis was a first-team all-state and all-region selection who was described as a “huge bat and can run like the wind.”
- PLAYERS TO WATCH: Keep an eye on right-hander Kaitlyn Felton was 4-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 50.0 IP last season. Per D1 Softball’s Fall Report, over the summer, she said, she trained and has transformed herself into a power pitcher. She now has a rise ball and a change-up to maximize her drop ball. She was fantastic in the team’s opening weekend, good enough to earn American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week. Chloe Evans was named to The American’s Weekly Honor Roll for her performance, of which her stats are highlighted above. (link gives you the details)
- SCHEDULE: Head Coach Cindy Ball-Malone has again put together a tough schedule for the Knights after it paid off last season when they hosted their first every NCAA Regional. Not only did they host, but they also reached the Supers before eventually losing to Oklahoma (hey, everyone did). Perhaps they’re getting ready for Big 12 competition, as they’ll be set to join in 2024. Regardless, they’ll face 11 teams who reached the NCAA tourney last season, including 9 ranked in the season-ending Top 25.
- STAFF: The Knights brought in Olympic medalist Jenn Salling as an assistant coach and former Oklahoma star pitcher Shannon Saile as a graduate assistant in the offseason. Head Coach Cindy “Bear” Ball-Malone joined the Knights in 2019 and has amassed a 145-59-2 record (.709 Win%) in four seasons. Under her tutelage last season, UCF earned an AAC title for the first time since 2015 and their fourth AAC conference championship.
- FUN-ISH FACT: Per FloSoftball, UCF may be “One to Watch” for a possible out-of-the-box WCWS trip. “They return 4 of their top-5 hitters following a 49-win campaign. This list includes Jada Cody (.361 average, 15 home runs, 75 RBI),” they wrote.