‘Slugging’ weekend awaits USF

The USF softball team got off to a good start last week, sweeping Jacksonville 6-0, 2-0 Saturday.

Keeping that streak alive won’t be easy as the Bulls play five games when they host the Louisville Slugger Tournament this weekend.

USF (2-0) will start with Northwestern at 1 p.m. today. The Wildcats went 24-18-1 last year and came within a game of the Big Ten Tournament.

They are led by senior pitchers Lauren Schwendimann and Brei Brown. Schwendimann went 16-6 last year, striking out 141 batters en route to a 2.54 ERA. Brown has been a workhorse in her four-year career, pitching in 89 games and 400 innings. Going 8-12 last year, she recorded 113 innings and 64 strikeouts.

Junior Carri Leto paced the Wildcats offensively last year, batting .343 with three home runs and 32 RBI while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors.

At 5 p.m., the Bulls play Sam Houston State. The Bearkats return eight of nine starters from last season, including two first-team preseason All-Southland Conference selections this year. Junior April Bardwell and senior Melissa Cosgrove give the Bearkats a solid one-two punch.

Bardwell batted .337 with 12 RBI and three doubles, while Cosgrove cranked out seven home runs, along with 38 hits and 20 RBI in 2002. The Bearkats went 11-31 last year, finishing eighth in the Southland Conference.

Saturday, the Bulls host Arizona, the 2002 national runner-up, at 1 p.m. Arizona went 55-12 last year, losing to California 6-0 in the title game. The Wildcats were one of the top home-run hitting teams in the nation, clearing the fences an astounding 93 times while driving in 342 runs.

First-team All Pac-10 senior Lovieanne Jung returns for the Wildcats. Jung hit 16 home runs, along with a blistering .364 batting average and 64 runs in 2002. Sophomore Jackie Coburn was third on the team last year with 14 home runs, along with 49 RBIs and 20 walks last year.

Pac-10 Coach of the Year Mike Candrea has led Arizona to six national titles while becoming only the third Division I coach in history to win 900 games last season.

“We consider ourselves a good team,” USF coach Ken Eriksen said. “We’ve played those types of teams before. You put (Arizona) in the upper echelon, and it just happened to be we weren’t considered a top echelon team last year because of our record (24-33-1). But in the past, we’ve played with those teams, and we beat them.”

USF will mix experience and youth during the Louisville Slugger.

“Well, I think you’ve got to go with your best — the people you feel most comfortable with,” Eriksen said. “Whether its Leigh Ann Ellis, Nicole Christiansen, or Corin Tassio or Gail Callinan. It’s who matches up well with those teams.”

The Bulls complete their second doubleheader in two days, as they host Auburn at 5 p.m. Saturday. Selected to finish third in the Southeastern Conference Western Division in the preseason, Auburn is coming off a 38-27 season in 2002, including the first NCAA regional berth in school history. Senior Kasey Angulo looks to be the top offensive threat for the Tigers, as she batted .337 last year with nine home runs and 41 RBI.

Sophomore Sara Dean was third on the Tigers squad with six home runs, driving in 33 runs while striking out a team-low 15 times among starters in 2002. Junior Kristin Keyes is the ace for the Tigers, going 21-12 last year with six shutouts and 211 strikeouts.

Sunday, the Bulls wrap up their homestand when they host Florida Atlantic at 1 p.m.

The Lady Owls were a force in 2002, going 62-13 and receiving their first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament while ranked as high as No. 10 in the country. FAU has won the past six Atlantic Sun championships and was the preseason pick to win this year.

Sophomore Pam Mazzarella, who earned a nod on the A-Sun All-Conference first team, returns as FAU’s top hitter, batting .289 with a team-leading 45 RBI and four home runs in 2002. 2003 A-Sun All-Conference selectee junior Ginny Matthews returns for the Lady Owls. Matthews batted .279 last year, stroking six home runs and 28 RBI.

As a hectic weekend schedule looms for the Bulls, they say they will be able to continue to play with stamina.

“It’s probably the best conditioned team we’ve ever had,” Eriksen said. “That really hasn’t even come into thought. I’m not really worried.

“We’ve got two on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday, and that’s not really a heavy duty schedule. If we were playing four doubleheaders in a row, I may be concerned, but we’re not.”

Contact Thomas Carrigan at oraclethomas@yahoo.com