TULSA, Okla. - One inning made the difference on Thursday, as the University of Connecticut softball team attempted a last-inning comeback behind senior Lexi Gifford's two-run home run, but fell short to second-seeded UCF, 3-2, at the Collins Softball Complex.
Behind stellar relief pitching by junior Kayla Doty that spanned over 5.1 scoreless innings, the Huskies (19-33, 4-13 AAC) mounted a late comeback, but were eventually turned away by UCF starter, Shelby Turnier. Turnier recorded 13 strikeouts in the win.
Trailing 3-0 in the seventh inning with two outs, junior Taylor Townsend hit a double down the right field line to keep UConn's hopes alive. Gifford followed with a two-run blast to left, her fourth of the year, cutting the deficit to 3-2.
Turnier ended the game by striking out senior Alyssa Gardea, wrapping-up the 2016 campaign for the Huskies. It is the third consecutive first-round loss for UConn in the American Athletic Conference Championship.
"I thought we battled tough until the last out of the game. For us to come through and score in the seventh was special, especially for Lexi being a senior," said head coach Jen McIntyre. "Turnier is good for a reason...we just came up one short."
Thursday was just as much about Doty as anyone, who relieved starter Jill Stockley after just 0.2 innings due to the freshman's control issues. UCF led 2-0 after Stockley hit two Knights' batters with the bases loaded, resulting in two runs.
UCF tacked on one more in the first inning on an RBI infield single, making it 3-0 with all runs charged to Stockley (9-14). From there on, Doty was dominant.
"She was lights-out today. I can't say enough about her performance. She came in and did her job. She shut them down and that's what we were looking for," said McIntyre about Doty's performance.
Doty did not surrender a run, scattering three hits in 5.1 innings, while striking out one and walking one. She was also the beneficiary of some fine defensive plays.
Gifford recorded a 6-3 double play in the third inning on a groundball near second base, while senior Jacklyn Dubois accounted for two outs in the fourth when making a nice play on a bunt and catching a runner stealing.
"The defensive was solid. Kayla got groundballs, which is what we needed. They stepped up and played well behind her," said McIntyre.
UConn's first hit came in the sixth inning when Gardea reached on a beautifully laid bunt. Take away the first inning and the Huskies outscored UCF, 2-0, and outhit the Knights, 3-2.
As the AAC Championship rolls on in Tulsa, the Huskies have completed the 2016 season and now will enter the offseason.