Making a stretch run

The South Florida softball team will host Southern Mississippi this weekend as it heads into Conference USA play Saturday, starting a string of six consecutive conference games.

With a lot of games still to play, USF is 3-2 in conference play, ranked fourth behind UAB (3-0), Southern Miss. (5-1) and Eastern Carolina (2-1). Coach Ken Eriksen predicts that Southern Miss. is the No. 2 team in the conference after DePaul.

Even though it is still early in the season for must-win games, the Bulls are looking toward conference play to get them one of the top six spots. With a spot in the conference tournament secured, the Bulls could compete for a chance at an NCAA at-large bid.

“It?s still too early to tell,” Eriksen said. “You rip off 25 victories in a row, you can?t deny you will be in the midst of the region. I don?t think that we can start saying that we have to do this and do that. The only thing we have to do is look at each game.”

The Bulls start their biggest streak of conference games so far this season at an optimal time.

The team is riding a 10-game win streak with the most recent being a defeat of No. 14 Iowa.

The Bulls also have the Conference USA hitter of the week in Holly Groves who is 10th in the conference with a .358 batting average and tops with 24 runs scored and 59 total bases.

Groves and the rest of the Bulls will face Felecia Gonzales, the conference pitcher of the week. Gonzales struck out 13 batters, allowing only three runs with six hits in her 16 1/3 innings pitched last week.

Another match up between two statistical leaders in the conference should play to USF?s favor when the Bulls attempt to add to their total of 60 steals against a defense that has allowed 41 steals. The Bulls stole nine bases against the Lady Eagles and then three in the next game last season.

“(Shelly Riker and Stephanie Roberts) keep telling me they want the green light the whole time,” Eriksen said. “I have to put the brakes on them.”

If the Bulls can continue their streak and win three more conference games this weekend, then they should propel themselves into the top three. This will be favorable to them heading into this season?s conference tournament, which will be on their home field for the first time ever.

“If we get to the tourney and we host it, it?s a great situation,” Eriksen said. “You are sleeping in your own bed, and it?s comfortable.”

  • Bryan Fazio covers softball and can be reached at