The USF softball team used strong pitching and defense to take an important conference series against Houston on Saturday and Sunday.
The Bulls won two-out-of-three games against the Cougars (26-23, 9-9 C-USA), thanks to a defense that committed no errors and a pitching staff that gave up only three earned runs for the entire series.
With their tough late-season schedule and some key players sidelined with injuries, the Bulls (35-21, 12-6 C-USA) took a big step in improving their chances to make the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve had a lot of games in a short period of time, and a lot of personnel hurting,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “To come into Houston and win two out of three is huge for us.”In the first game, key mistakes by the Cougars and a strong performance by freshman pitcher Bree Spence helped USF top UH, 5-1.
In the first inning, with Christie Chapman on second, junior Samantha Ray hit a bunt towards UH third baseman Kristen Glowacz who tried to make a play at third base. Glowacz instead threw the ball into deep left field and the error allowed Chapman and Ray to score.
The Bulls would add three more runs off a Carmela Liwag homer, but two runs were all Spence would need,as she pitched a complete game, allowed eight hits and no earned runs for her 17th win of the year.
Bulls’ pitcher Kasey Cash picked up where Bree Spence left off by shutting out the Cougars in the second game Saturday, 1-0.
Cash (9-4) went four innings before giving up her first hit — a single by UH’s Jennifer Walsh.
“Kasey has done a fabulous job. She’s given us some great innings these past two weeks,” Eriksen said.
The sophomore pitcher went 5 2/3 innings, allowed only three hits and struck out five for her fifth straight win.
On Sunday, the Bulls took the series finale down to the wire before losing to the Cougars 3-2.
Sophomore pitcher Danielle Urbanik (7-6) — making her second start since coming back from knee surgery — gave up the three earned runs of the series in 2 1/3 innings of work.
With the score at 3-2 going into the seventh, the Bulls got their last chance to extend the game. With sophomore speedster Alycia LePage on second, Chapman hit a single to center that gave LePage the go-ahead to come home. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Cougars’ center fielder Kim Nesloney was able to throw out LePage out at home.
“It was a great throw by Nesloney; we had a great opportunity to score but it just didn’t work out,” Eriksen said. “You have got to credit the other team for making a great play.”
The throw left the Bulls a play away from sweeping the Cougars, ending the team’s winning streak at nine games. With only six regular-season games left, Eriksen wants every aspect of his team to improve.
“We’re still a little inconsistent, ” Eriksen said. “We’re getting great pitching and we’re getting great defense. We’ve just got to get a little bit better on offense.”