With two outs and a full count in the bottom of the sixth, the pressure was on senior Holly Groves.
Tied 0-0 against East Carolina Saturday night, it looked as if the teams were headed into extra innings for the second time that day, but Groves grooved a low outside fastball to center field, scoring Carmela Liwag as the Bulls held on to edge East Carolina 1-0.
“I knew she was going to go outside, so I knew I needed to stay in to drive it out,” Groves said. “I just figured it, and I was right.”
The Bulls went on to sweep the Pirates, opening the Conference USA season by winning 10-2 Sunday and 3-2 later Saturday in addition to their 1-0 win in the first game Saturday. The sweep extends the Bulls’ winning streak to 15 games, third best in school history and two off the school mark of 17 games, set by the 1995-96 squad.
Despite the winning streak, USF coach Ken Eriksen said he doesn’t believe the team is getting ahead of itself.
“We’ve had a complete focus everyday,” Eriksen said. “We just want to play inning to inning, pitch to pitch. We want to keep it as simple as we can, and we’re not worried about things down the road. We need to take care of business today.”
In a game that took one hour and 20 minutes, the Bulls recorded six hits for the victory. Starting pitcher Corin Tassio went six innings, striking out five batters and giving up three hits.
In the first game Saturday, the streak was in danger, as the Pirates held a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning. In the bottom of the seventh, starting pitcher Leigh Ann Ellis pinch hit for Shelly Riker with two base runners on.
Ellis rewarded Eriksen’s good faith, stroking a two-run single down right field to knot it up at two and send the game to extra frames. Ellis then drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth, slashing a dribbler down the third base line, driving in a sliding Renee Oursler from third base.
Ellis also put in a fine pitching performance, recording her ninth victory, going the distance each time, to go with one walk and 11 strikeouts, increasing her total to a team-leading 95.
“I just wanted to get the strikeouts, flyouts and groundouts,” Ellis said. “I wanted to keep them off the bases, and I knew my team would come through for us.”
The two victories were a testament to the Bulls’ pitching, as even though the offense scored only four runs in the afternoon, USF came away with the doubleheader sweep.
“When you’re 0-1 in the count as a pitcher, you can control the batter,” Eriksen said. “Tassio did that Saturday better than she did (Thursday) against Oakland. She’s a pitcher that needs to throw a lot and (needs) to be successful in her timing, and she did that tonight.”
The Bulls finished off the Pirates in style Sunday, pounding East Carolina by eight runs. Groves nailed her second home run of the season, while Courtney Lewellen and Krista Holle each recorded two hits. Kattrina Dowd drove in three runs, while pitcher Katie Dugger earned her third win of the year, striking out three through three innings.
Thomas Carrigan covers USF softball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org