After falling to top-seeded UCF, 3-1, in the AAC championship semifinals Friday, the USF softball team’s quest for a fourth-consecutive NCAA Tournament bid was out of its control and in the hands of the NCAA selection committee.
Broadcast on ESPNU on Sunday night, the selection show called the names of 64 programs that now have the chance to continue their season.
Following a roller-coaster season, USF was not among the teams announced.
The Bulls finished the season with a 36-20 record and earned the fifth seed in the conference tournament.
After beating East Carolina (16-37, 7-11) 5-0 in the opening round Thursday, in-state rival and 15th-ranked UCF (48-7, 16-2) stood in the way of the Bulls’ second conference title in three years, after winning the Big East in 2013.
Senior pitcher Sam Greiner recovered after giving up an early run to pitch five scoreless innings, which set the table for a late comeback.
“That’s what you want your seniors to do, step up and perform like that, and she did it today,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “I don’t think that anybody put us on their back like she did the past two weeks.”
Junior Lee Ann Spivey tied the game at one in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out RBI-single to bring home senior D’Anna Devine from second.
Spivey, along with sophomore Kristen Wyckoff and senior Karla Claudio were named to the All-Conference team Wednesday after standout seasons.
In the top of the seventh, Claudio came in to pitch with the bases loaded and no outs. She nearly got out of the jam — striking out the first two batters — but with a two-strike count, UCF’s Jessica Ujvari, who scored the Knights’ first run, drove in the go-ahead run that fell just short of sophomore Juli Weber’s glove.
Earlier that week, USF pulled off the comeback win, giving UCF only its second conference loss of the season, but was unable to push across any runs in the final inning of the conference tournament semis.
“It’s a game of inches,” Eriksen said following the loss. “… The difference between gold and silver is a fingernail sometimes and that’s what it was today.”
Though its season was cut short, the near miss was nothing for the Bulls to hang their heads about.
USF had Erica Nunn throw a no-hitter, a 16-game winning streak, as well as some tight battles against top-five teams in the country.
USF’s Achilles heel was its inability to defeat top-ranked teams. Before their win against No. 15 UCF, the Bulls were 0-7 against teams in the top-25, including four losses against teams in the top-five.
The Bulls lose six seniors including Claudio and Greiner, but USF’s freshmen accounted for 52 RBIs this season, with another 39 coming from sophomores.