Newcomer Jacksonville up first for Bulls in 2003

The USF softball team will be playing its first game of the season Saturday at Jacksonville. For the Dolphins, it will be their second game — ever.

“As much as Jacksonville is new, they’re an in-state program, and we want to start a rivalry right away,” USF assistant coach Stacey Nichols said. “We want to play as many in-state teams as we can. We’re not going to take them lightly. They already have a lot of quality players.”

Jacksonville played its first game in school history Wednesday, a 5-3 loss to Webber International, an NAIA school.

The Bulls are coming off a 24-33-1 season in 2002, USF’s first losing campaign since since 1989. Their season ended with two straight losses in the Conference USA Tournament, which USF hosted.

“I hate to chalk off last year,” Nichols said. “We learned so much. It should only make us that much hungrier.”

Pitching was a sore spot for USF in 2002, as Ken Eriksen’s staff entered the year with only one pitcher with any experience. Junior Corin Tassio acquitted herself well in her first year at USF after transferring from Georgia, where she mostly played second base. She cemented herself as the Bulls’ ace by the end of 2002, throwing 11 complete games with a 2.29 ERA.

Help is on the way in the form of junior Leigh Ann Ellis.

The hard-throwing lefty led Tennessee with a 1.94 ERA in 20 appearances last season.

Throwing almost 70 miles per hour, Ellis started the Bulls’ final exhibition game against the British national team and could establish herself as the ace USF was lacking a year ago.

“Leigh Ann brings a great game presence and passionate intensity you can see every time she takes the mound,” Nichols said. “Her presence should help everyone around her. Physically, she’s a lefthander who throws very hard with a lot of spin.”

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