After an opening weekend in which the USF softball team (1-2) let go of leads to No. 1 Florida and No. 4 Michigan, the Bulls entered their second week of competition by hosting the 2014 USF Tournament with five games slated for Friday through Sunday.
Of the five schools on USF’s schedule this weekend, the Bulls played three last season — the most notable of which are the No. 2 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (4-0), who the Bulls play at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Lady Vols lost Team USA members Raven Chavanne and Lauren Gibson to graduation, but return with most of the starters from last season’s squad that lost to Oklahoma in the Women’s College World Series championship.
Tennessee is now led by a trio of seniors including pitcher Ellen Renfroe, who has thrown over 200 innings in each of her first three seasons with a 1.49 career ERA and 74-17 record.
On the offensive side, senior shortstop Madison Shipman and left-fielder Melissa Davin have a combined 43 career home runs, 230 RBI and anchor the heart of the Lady Vols’ batting order.
In last season’s contest, USF and Tennessee were knotted at 0-0 until the sixth inning, when the Lady Vols poured on six runs, made possible by a series of Bulls’ defensive errors.
The 11-0 loss to Tennessee was the start of a 1-9 stretch for USF that contributed to a 6-10 record in the Bulls’ first 16 games. The rough start to the season was turned around on March 1 with a 3-2 defeat of Illinois, beginning a 17-game winning streak for USF.
Illinois (5-0) is the second of USF’s opponents from last season to make the trip to the USF Softball Stadium once again, set for a 1:30 p.m. start on Sunday.
The Fighting Illini went 22-27 last season, but batted .360 as a team in their opening weekend and held opponents to a .250 batting average led by freshman pitcher Brandi Needham who went 3-0 last weekend.
At 1:45 p.m. Saturday, USF will take on former Big East foe Pittsburgh (3-2), which the Bulls swept in a three-game series last April and outscored 22-1.
But before USF faces any of its three familiar opponents, the Bulls are scheduled to play a double-header Friday at 1:45 p.m. against Wright State and Binghamton. Last season, Wright State had a 19-37 record and Binghamton compiled a 30-17 mark.
USF coach Ken Eriksen said after last weekend’s struggles the team needed to prepare and play far more aggressively in upcoming contests.
In the Bulls’ opening weekend, senior pitcher Sara Nevins struggled in 10 innings with 12 strikeouts, 12 walks and seven earned runs, while sophomore pitcher Erica Nunn didn’t allow a run in 5 2/3 innings.
Nunn made the American Athletic Conference Weekly Honor Roll along with senior shortstop Kourtney Salvarola, who went 4-for-10 with a grand slam.