The USF softball team hopes to bounce back after a disappointing 1-4 record last weekend in Clearwater.
The Bulls (5-5) will begin a new era tonight at the new on-campus stadium at 7, facing off against Central Connecticut State to kick off the Fairfield Inn and Suites Tampa North Tournament.
After playing a ranked opponent in each of the first two weekends of the season, USF will welcome two top-15 teams to campus this weekend in Missouri and Alabama.
“Our schedule is not just to win the Big East, it is to get into the NCAA Tournament and get to Oklahoma City,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “That’s the way we schedule it. You want to play the best.”
The Bulls are 0-2 against top-25 teams this season with losses to then-No. 6 Florida and then-No. 25 DePaul.
The grueling schedule provides tough pitching foes for USF. No. 2 Alabama (10-0) brings senior ace Kelsi Dunne and freshman star Jackie Traina. Dunne (6-0) started this season by pitching a no-hitter against Jacksonville State. Traina is 3-0 on the mound and batting .583 with four home runs so far this season.
“You want to face that kind of pitching,” Eriksen said. “I don’t think you get better by facing mediocre pitching.”
With a day off on Friday, USF starts Saturday’s doubleheader at 4:30 p.m. against No. 15 Missouri (1-2), which is led by pitcher Kristin Nottelmann. She recorded 24 wins last season.
USF closes the doubleheader against Illinois State at 6:30 p.m.
The Bulls plan to bring good pitching of their own this weekend.
Freshman Sara Nevins (2-1) has an overall ERA of 0.98, allowing only 17 hits and five runs in 28.2 innings.
“The old adage is if you keep the other team at zero you have a great chance to win, and she is doing that,” Eriksen said. “She’s very competitive. When she gets on the mound the fire just burns in her.”
USF will end the tournament Sunday against Alabama at 12:30 p.m. and Temple at 2:30 p.m.
The new softball stadium seats about 700 fans and boasts the largest dugouts in the country.
“This coaching staff is like a kid on Christmas morning,” Eriksen said. “We got a peek of what the present is and now we just want to play with it. To have your own venue, to have your own fans, you know we’re going to defend that place. I encourage everyone to come out and watch.”