It was the summer before USF freshman outfielder Ta’coia Williams’ junior year of high school at Greco Softball Complex off of N. 50th Street, just south of the USF Tampa campus.
That’s when USF coaches first saw her play.
Former USF softball assistant coach Stacy Heintz was scouting players from travel softball teams when she said she remembered placing a call to head coach Ken Eriksen, who was scouting in Clearwater.
“You need to come over to Tampa right now,” Heintz said.
“I’ve got a lot of games to watch,” Eriksen said.
“No, you need to get over here for the 6 p.m. game,” Heintz yelled into the phone. “How many times in 10 years have I told you that you need to stop what you’re doing and get over here?”
Eriksen hit the road and made it to the Greco field in time to see Williams’ last
at-bat of the evening.
Williams walked to the plate and Eriksen saw her for the
“She hit one five miles high in the infield, and I turned around because there were a bunch of college coaches there and acted like I was a little angry I drove all that way,” Eriksen said. “I went to the other side of the field and called Coach Heintz who was still (there) and said, ‘Oh my God, did you see that? That was unbelievable.’ Best pop-up I’ve ever seen.”
The next morning Eriksen headed to the Greco fields for Williams’ 8 a.m. game
“In her first four at-bats, she hit four home runs,” he said. “And there were no college coaches around because she popped up in her last at-bat the day before.”
Heintz said the coaching staff wasn’t able to talk to Williams for a while, but
eventually, Eriksen approached her after another game.
“I hit two home runs back to back (that time),” Williams said. “He said, ‘I want you to come over to the campus, and see the field.’ I fell in love instantly. The coaching staff and the girls just made me feel like I was part of a family as soon as I stepped on campus. I knew right away this is where I wanted to come.”
As Williams attended and played for Palm Beach Gardens High School, she wore the blue and orange like that of the University of Florida. Her
jersey even read “Gators” across the front.
Sure enough, she was recruited by No. 1 Florida as well as No. 7 Alabama, South Carolina and a couple other universities.
But when she arrived at her first collegiate game in a Bulls uniform to open the 2014 season against Florida on Feb. 6, she faced off against the blue and orange for the first time.
“I came in that day not knowing I was going to hit in that game, (especially) as a freshman,” Williams said. “But I was prepared.”
She saw her name in the third spot of Eriksen’s
batting order, a spot widely considered in baseball and
softball to set for the team’s
best all-around hitter.
“Oh my gosh, I hope I don’t mess up,” she remembers thinking. “I hope I don’t strike out. There are so many people here.”
Gators senior pitcher Hannah Rogers, who had a 97-23-career record with a 1.64 ERA heading into the season, was in the circle.
“It was waist-high,” Williams said. “It was the pitch I was
Williams swung and a collective ‘Ooh’ filled the capacity crowd at the USF softball stadium. Like the pop-up a couple years earlier, it was a moonshot.
But this time, it was a roughly 260-foot home run past the center field wall.
Williams went 2-for-3 in the game, and has cooled off with only one hit since the first game, with a .176 average in
17 at-bats and nine strikeouts, but Eriksen said she has the ability to be the best USF pure-hitter as a freshman since current Bulls assistant coach Monica Triner.
Triner batted .390 in her career with a school-record
23 home runs and 158 RBI
and holds records in walks (141) and on-base percentage (.508).
“She has a natural power I haven’t seen in a while,” Heintz said. “She has a great strike zone for herself and she carries herself amazingly.”
Williams and the Bulls take on five teams this weekend at the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater.