Bulls ranking to be put to the test

By Michael Manganello SPORTS EDITOR
On February 29, 2012

For the first time this season, the USF softball team is nationally ranked.

After a 4-1 weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, the Bulls (10-2) have jumped into the rankings at the No. 23 spot, not that coach Ken Eriksen puts much stock into being ranked this early in the season.

"I'm not sold on it, yet," he said. "We've still got a lot of work to do. … We've got 10 W's out of 12 games, and I guess that's going to open some people's eyes up and start taking us more seriously, but we just have to get better."

The Bulls will have to defend their new ranking tonight, as No. 12 Michigan arrives at the USF Softball Stadium to put them to the test.

The Wolverines also played in the Leadoff Classic, compiling a 3-2 record in the tournament. Both USF and Michigan topped Illinois State and Mississippi State in the event.

The game will be a rematch of a 7-2 Michigan win last year, when the Wolverines pulled away late.

"I thought the kids last year, when we were 0-0 in the fifth inning with them, showed our young freshman players that they could play on the same ball field with (Michigan)," Eriksen said. "We can't get caught up in the team in the other dugout. We can't get caught up on the uniform of the other team or what they look like. Hopefully, the team remains faceless over there."

One of the Bulls' shortcomings last weekend was their lack of production from the bottom of the order. In the first game against Illinois State, when the Bulls trailed 3-2 heading into the final inning, the No. 8 and No. 9 slots in the lineup combined to hit 0-for-7 with seven strikeouts.

While production from the end of the lineup has left much more to be desired, one of the Bulls' biggest strengths early this season has been the speed provided by the outfielder tandem of Gina Kafalas and Ashli Goff at the top of the lineup.

Kafalas is batting .310 with five RBIs and a .356 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot. With a .188 batting average, Goff is struggling in comparison to her breakout freshman season last year, but she gets around the diamond quickly and leads the team in runs scored.

"I have a lot of support from my teammates," Kafalas said. "When I first started, it was definitely nerve-wracking (being the leadoff hitter). It still is. I always have butterflies. I'm still nervous being the first hitter at the plate, but I just try and get as many pitches as I can and give the other eight batters behind me an idea of what she's pitching."

The first pitch between USF and Michigan is scheduled for 5 p.m, after which the Bulls head back to Clearwater for the Under Armor Invitational.

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