GAINESVILLE All weekend, it seemed like the little things went the Bulls way: a few extra inches on a game-saving leap, a key hit to break a game open, a little extra hustle to beat out a throw and get the winning run across the plate. In the end, the USF softball team (48-11) took all those little things and turned them into one big thing: a berth in the NCAA Super Regionals.
After winning the first two games of the weekend in Gainesville, 1-0 against UCF and 8-3 against Florida Gulf Coast, the Bulls were set for Championship Sunday, needing just one win in two attempts over the vaunted Gators to advance to Super Regionals. History was on their side, as the Bulls had beaten the Gators on the very same field just two months earlier, when pitcher Sara Nevins led USF to a 4-1 win.
The sophomore came through again Sunday against one of the best lineups in the nation, an offense that had rocketed 68 home runs on the year. Nevins silenced their metal bats, allowing just five hits and no runs while striking out 12, and leading USF to a 1-0 win.
Nevins road to the milestone win was not easy, however, as the aggressive Gators pounded two hits and a walk to load the bases with no outs to start the sixth. With the Gator-friendly crowd in a cheering frenzy, the six-foot southpaw calmly responded by striking out the next two batters and forcing the third to ground out.
We got a cool cat right here, coach Ken Eriksen said. I walked out to the mound with the bases loaded and she looked at me and said, I got it.
Nevins kept her trademark poker face despite the raucous crowd, which could have proved to be a distraction for a less focused pitcher.
Since Im emotionless (during games), it was good, Nevins said. I try not to let things phase me. My stomach was tossing a little bit, but I didnt show anything.
The Bulls offense needed one run in the scoreless match to be the champions of the Gainesville Regional. First baseman Stephanie Medina powered a lead-off double to center field. After pinch runner Stephanie Juergens moved to third on a bunt, designated player Kenshyra Jackson legged out an infield single with two outs to score the game-deciding run.
My at-bat before that, I was seeing (the pitcher) but I struck out, Medina said. I came in hacking and I knew shed give me a pitch to hit, and I managed to hit it.
Having just missed a chance to host an NCAA Regional round, the Bulls went into Gainesville, ready to rid themselves of the bitter taste of a slow end to the season. They came out as the best team in the state of Florida.
I told my team all year long, take care of the little things, Eriksen said. Take care of the 60 foot run to first, take care of the ball, and the other things will fall into place, and it wasnt more evident than this weekend.
If the win over the Gators was highlight No. 1 of the weekend, Jessica Mouse was responsible for No. 2. The senior transfer from LSU made the play of the tournament, when she leapt for a grab with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth to save the 1-0 win over UCF on Friday.
Thanks to losses by Florida State and UCLA, the Bulls will host the NCAA Super Regionals against Hofstra this week. Game times will be announced later in the week.