In a season where the Bulls welcomed any and all opponents, perhaps it’s only fitting that their NCAA Regional is stacked.
USF (40-17, 17-4 AAC) opens the Tallahassee Regional on Friday at noon with a game against No. 21 South Carolina, which will be televised on SEC Network.
The Gamecocks (36-17, 9-14 SEC) are the only team in the regional that also includes Bethune-Cookman (26-28, 13-2 MEAC) and overall No.4-seed FSU (51-8, 19-5 ACC) that did not win their conference.
But, again, a weekend against powerhouses is nothing new for coach Ken Eriksen’s team.
“If you think about it, you go back to our schedule: open up with Michigan, Florida, Arizona — that was an NCAA Regional the first weekend,” Eriksen said. “The next weekend … it was out at Arizona — you had Alabama, Arizona, [Cal State] Fullerton. So there’s another regional.”
Rather than worrying, USF players are excited about the challenge.
“It’s always really nice to play these difficult teams and not only see their competition level but also see how they carry themselves, the way that they’re coached, everything else about the way that they play,” sophomore Georgina Corrick said. “So I’m really, really excited to go to this regional and I know the rest of my teammates are as well.”
One thing USF may have on its side heading into the weekend is rest. Last weekend’s AAC Tournament in Houston was canceled before the quarterfinal round could be completed due to severe weather and subsequently unplayable field conditions in Houston.
The No.1-seed Bulls run-ruled No.8-seed Memphis 8-0 in six innings behind a one-hit performance from Corrick in the only game they were able to play before Mother Nature had its way.
“Obviously, we did want to play [last] weekend when we got stuck in the hotel for two days straight,” Corrick said, “but I think the rest was really good because, obviously getting this far into the season, we’ve played 50-plus games and it can definitely take a toll on you — mentally, physically — especially hopping on and off planes.”
The Bulls also have past experience on their side. With the exception of the host Seminoles, USF has faced every team in the regional at least once in the past two seasons. USF fell 8-1 to South Carolina on March 1 at the USF Softball Stadium.
“I’m excited to get a rematch against them,” junior AnaMarie Bruni said. “Obviously, the outcome wasn’t what we wanted when we saw them last, but, like any game, it’s a new game, so it just depends on who shows up that day.”
Tallahassee — and the state of Florida, for that matter, is also a very familiar site for USF in postseason play. Of the Bulls’ 15 NCAA Regional appearances, five have been played in Tallahassee — and zero have been played outside Florida since 2001.
That fact has drawn the question, if not ire, of some fans, but it’s all good, according to Corrick.
“Obviously, I’d love to play anywhere,” Corrick said, “but I think just making our regional and going to Florida State, which is the No. 4-seed, is really exciting and I think it’s a great experience for us — even if it is only in the state of Florida.
“Lord knows Florida’s strange enough.”