Salvarola’s swing steals Big East opening series from Rutgers

 

While the USF softball team’s winning streak was stopped at 17 on Saturday, two wins short of tying last year’s record of 19 wins in a row, the Bulls went 3-1 over the weekend and set two individual records in Sunday’s game against Rutgers.

Junior shortstop Kourtney Salvarola added to what is shaping up to be the best offensive campaign of her career, with a single-game record of three home runs to carry the Bulls to a 2-1 series win over Rutgers, and junior pitcher Sara Nevins made USF history with career strikeouts. 

Down 3-2 in the fifth inning, Salvarola hit her second home run of the game to tie the score at 3. 

Then, after just missing a third home run in the seventh inning, Salvarola won the game on a walk-off home run in the ninth inning.

“Like I’ve said before, I’ve been working on that leader role this year,” she said. “I think it’s just a great opportunity for me to be a leader for our team. I really focus in those big moments. I know my teammates behind me can do it, but it always feels great to be that one to help the team out.”

In the fourth inning with the Bulls up 2-1, Nevins entered the game in relief of senior Lindsey Richardson, and allowed a two-run home run to Alexis Durando of Rutgers.

But history would be made, as Nevins struck out Ashley Bragg to pass Bulls’ assistant coach Mo Triner’s record of 641 career strikeouts.

“It was a sigh of relief,” Nevins said. “After that I threw a lot better.”

Nevins finished with seven strikeouts and allowed one hit in four innings before Richardson returned to the game to pitch the final two innings and shut down the Scarlet Knights.

“I think that Lindsey changed the momentum of the game,” Salvarola said. “She came in and struck girls out like it was nothing. We were behind her like ‘Okay, we got this.'”

With a 4-3 win, the Bulls were able to get rid of the bad taste left in their mouths after Saturday’s loss.

In the last inning of the second game of the day, up 2-1, freshman catcher Lee Ann Spivey tried to a stop a base-stealing attempt at second base, but with a runner on third base, Spivey’s throw sailed past the infield, and allowed the tying run to score.

Another run would make it 3-2, and the Bulls weren’t able to mount a rally in their final at-bats.

After winning the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader 11-3, coach Ken Eriksen said he wasn’t happy with the way his team competed in the loss.

“We changed our approach in the second game,” he said. “We were all happy, happy, happy. We scored 11 runs and thought we’ll just come out and do it again. It doesn’t work that way in this game. It was a lesson in being humble in victory.”

Eriksen said the team didn’t play as well as it appeared to based on final score of the first game either, and that his pitching aces Richardson and Nevins were not aggressive enough in both games.

“If you have a great pitch, and you’re getting someone out with it, keep using it,” he said. “We were getting all fancy today, trying to throw six or seven different kinds of pitches. We gave up runs on dumb pitches. With our pitching staff, I felt like we should have shut them out if we were more aggressive.”

With eight home runs in the last four games, the Bulls surpassed their 2012 team total of 27, roughly halfway through the season.

Salvarola’s four home runs puts her at eight for the season, passing her career high of six.

At least three of them have tied or won a game for the Bulls.

“She just has a great demeanor about this game,” Eriksen said, “and that is that it’s just a game. And the only pressure you have, is the pressure you put on yourself.”

The Bulls won 5-0 against Cornell on March 21 in a final tune-up before conference play. Eriksen used each pitcher in the game to make sure they were all ready for conference play. 

At the time, it was the seventh consecutive shutout thrown by the Bulls pitching staff.

Now 24-11 and 2-1 in the Big East, USF will travel to Philadelphia for a three-game series against Villanova starting on Wednesday at 3 p.m.

It will be the Bulls’ first true road test this season, as the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater has been a home-away-from-home for the Bulls during USF tournament action.

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