PLANT CITY — Neither a two-hour delay nor a broken sprinkler could get in the way of the USF softball team at the Speedline Invitational Thursday.
The Bulls’ first game against Illinois was pushed back two hours due to the previous tournament games, and its second game against Long Island was delayed 20 minutes midway through the third inning because of a broken sprinkler at first base.
However, the Bulls held on to win 1-0 and 9-5 during the opening pool play of the Speedline Invitational on the way to their 17th consecutive victory.
The 17 straight victories tie the school record set by the 1995-96 Bulls.
USF coach Ken Eriksen said he’s proud of the way his team held up despite the delays.
“I’m always proud of my team,” Eriksen said. “They’ve done a great job all year and they’ve battled through a lot of teams. Comebacks are important to us when beiing down.”
Long Island rocked USF starter Nicole Christensen for three runs in the bottom of the first, but the Bulls scored a run in each of the first three innings to tie it up. Holly Groves broke the tie in the top of the fourth, scorching a double off the left-field fence, driving in Carmela Liwag to make it 4-3.
The lead then increased to 7-3 as Groves ripped her third home run of the year, a three-run job over the left field wall.
USF then tacked on three more runs in the top of the seventh to make it 9-5. Making her second start of the year, Christensen was touched up for four runs off four hits sandwiched around two errors in 3 2/3 innings. Despite the slow start, the Bulls racked up 15 hits in the victory.
“Anytime you can get that type of hitting it takes pressure off the pitching staff,” Eriksen said.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the middle of the lineup right now with Courtney (Lewellen), Holly (Groves) and (Christie) Chapman with the way they’ve been coming through and Renee Oursler picking up a lot for us.
“At some point or another, it seems we have a different hero every game.”
In the first meeting between USF and Illinois in school history, it was a pitchers’ duel from the start.
The Bulls failed to capitalize in their first opportunity in the top of the fourth.
With runners on second and third, Christie Chapman popped out to second base to end the threat. Ellis escaped a potential game-breaker in the bottom of the fifth.
After intentionally walking the cleanup hitter to load the bases, Ellis got the next batter to pop out to end the inning.
With the score knotted at zero, Liwag busted through with her first home run of the year in the top of the sixth, and the Bulls held on for the 1-0 victory.
It was Liwag’s second home run of her career, with her other one coming in last year during the same tournament.
“She likes this field. She hit her first home run last year against Virginia Tech,” Eriksen said. “That was a great pitch to hit and she moved on it pretty nicely. The timing was beautiful.”
Ellis went the distance, giving up no runs with three strikeouts and three walks. It was Ellis’ 10th complete game victory of the year.
“I thought she was outstanding,” Eriksen said.
“When you’re working ahead in the count and you’re doing the types of things that you’re supposed to do, you’re going to get batters off balanced. And she did a good job in that.”
The Bulls finish off pool play against No. 11 Stanford and Coastal Carolina at 2 and 4 p.m today and Western Michigan noon Saturday.
Thomas Carrigan covers USF softball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org