Sometimes, it’s not necessarily about the final score.
Monday was one of those nights at the USF Softball Stadium.
USF softball played host to the No. 2-ranked team in the world, Team Japan. For the majority of the game, the Bulls held their own, limiting Japan to one run through the game’s first six innings, though ultimately falling 10-2 after allowing nine runs in the seventh inning.
The Bulls’ only runs came in the bottom of the seventh, when freshman Dezarae Maldonado connected for a two-run homer to left field off Kana Nakano.
Maldonado’s homer was her first base hit in a USF uniform.
“This was probably better than my first home run, my first — anything,” Maldonado said. “This moment, right here, is just — my best.”
But Monday night was about more than just another game among the dozens of others USF will play this season. It was about playing with the best of the best.
“If you aspire to be at that level, the game is played really, really quick,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “Our guys took a look at Team Japan tonight and saw a Major League Baseball team that they were playing against. That’s pretty special.”
Before the game, USF and Team Japan greeted each other with gifts as starting lineups were announced.
“We gave them Rocky the Bull bobbleheads as a symbol of USF and welcoming them to Tampa,” sophomore pitcher Georgina Corrick said. “And then they gave us some Softball Japan stickers and a pin as their logo of the Japanese softball team.”
After the game, the friendliness continued, with Team Japan bowing toward the crowd at the USF Softball Stadium shortly after the final out was recorded and standing at attention along their baseline as the Bulls sang the university’s alma mater along their baseline.
“I think it’s really awesome to bring international into the college play,” Corrick said. “I think it’s so cool to have teams coming from across the world to come play each other and experience new cultures and just redefine themselves and figure out how other people do things.”
Corrick, who is no stranger to Team Japan, having pitched against them as a member of Team Great Britain, started the game, allowing one run on three hits and struck out two.
“It’s always really exciting, just playing Team Japan in general,” Corrick said. “It’s always such an experience. They have such a great respect for the game. And I feel like no matter what uniform they’re wearing, no matter what uniform I’m wearing, it’s always going to be a great matchup.
“They challenge me to be a better pitcher every single time … I really hope that I bring something new to the table that they haven’t seen and we’re both kind of just sharpening each other.”
Eriksen, like Corrick, knows Team Japan well. Eriksen has served as head coach of Team USA since 2011 and has coached against Japan many times prior to Monday.
“We’re friends and we help each other out,” Eriksen said. “It was great for the Tampa Bay area. It’s nice that we have those type of connections, not just nationwide, but worldwide. And to put on a show like this in front of the community, I thought it was pretty special and we were very lucky that it came about.”
Ultimately, 18 different batters and five pitchers received playing time against one of the best teams in the world just a day removed from wrapping up a weekend where the Bulls played the Nos. 5, 7 and 19 teams in the NCAA.
“We definitely had a learning experience this weekend,” Maldonado said. “We’ve seen many things we can work on, and we’ve taken a lot from what the other team has taught us. We’ve made a mistake and we learn from it.”