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Key Big East duel tonight in Louisville

Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 01:04

ORACLE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

ORACLE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

With two of the best pitching staffs competing tonight, defense could be the deciding factor. USF shortstop Kourtney Salvarola has a .933 fielding percentage.

With the USF softball team squaring off against Louisville, the true winner of tonight’s nationally televised doubleheader may be the Big East’s postseason chances.

The No. 17 Bulls (40-6, 13-1) enter the matchup sitting atop the league standings, just ahead of No. 9 Louisville (38-2, 9-2). With the top two teams playing against each other on ESPNU, the Big East, not generally considered a strong conference nationwide in softball, can show off its postseason readiness.

“What always happens every year is that the Big East teams maybe aren’t as popular,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “The analogy is, ‘Maybe they’re not the most popular girls that get asked to the prom, but they’re always the girls that end up going to the prom.’ That’s what happens. There’s still the West Coast bias, the SEC bias.”

While USF and Louisville are the only two Big East teams ranked in either the USA Today or ESPN.com

Top 25, there are a few other Big East schools populating the top 60 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), one of the key components the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses to determine the field.

Using the RPI rankings, No. 21 DePaul, No. 26 Syracuse, No. 32 Notre Dame and No. 56 Pittsburgh are all teams with a chance to be selected. USF and Louisville come in at No. 19 and No. 11, respectively, in the RPI rankings.

“You take a look right now at what we’ve done, what DePaul has done, what Pitt has done, what Syracuse is doing against the country, you can’t say that (the Big East) isn’t going to have five or six teams that potentially could go to the NCAA Tournament,” Eriksen said. “I think that’s right up with some of the other conferences that people think of as darlings.”

With the top two teams meeting, it’s no surprise that the games could also feature the top two pitching staffs in the league.

USF’s three starting pitchers, led by Sara Nevins and including Lindsey Richardson and Sam Greiner, have a combined ERA of 0.92 this season. Nevins and Richardson together have a record of 31-2.

Louisville also has a three-pronged pitching attack with Tori Collins, Chelsea Leonard and Caralisa Connell combined for a 1.23 ERA.

Collins leads the staff with 27 appearances and an 18-1 record.

“(This doubleheader) has two of the best staffs going against each other,” Eriksen said. “No matter who’s throwing for them and no matter who’s throwing for us, you’ll have two great matchups for the staffs. They do a great job working around hitters and I think we do a really great job of working around hitters.”

USF only played Louisville once last year — an opening round game in the Big East Tournament hosted by the Cardinals. The Bulls were without Eriksen, who was serving a suspension for forfeiting a game, and lost 2-0.

Right fielder Gina Kafalas said the memories of that outing, when the Bulls were shutout and limited to two hits by Collins, won’t have an impact today.

“I think that (their pitching staff) does a pretty good job, but every year is different,” she said. “They don’t know who we have and we don’t know who they have.”

The doubleheader begins at 4 p.m., with both games broadcast live on ESPNU.

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