When the going stays good

It seems the USF softball team can do no wrong these days.

The Bulls came into the weekend at 36-10 and were riding a 25-game home winning streak. The streak remained intact, as they swept Charlotte 3-0 and 5-2 Saturday and 12-0 Sunday. The three wins against the 49ers increased the all-time series to 25-1 in the Bulls’ favor.

Sunday, the Bulls got off to a fast start against the 49ers. They scored an eye-opening 11 runs in the bottom of the first. The 11 runs were the most USF had scored in one inning all year, and they all came with two outs.

Kattrina Dowd led off with a single through the middle. Carmela Liwag then singled, and after Shelly Riker and Courtney Lewellen grounded out, Christie Chapman knocked in the first two runs with a single to right field.

With the score 7-0 and the bases loaded, Lewellen came up to bat for the second time in the inning and promptly delivered a two-out grand slam, the first of her career and her second home run of the year.

Pitcher Leigh Ann Ellis threw the first inning of the game and handed over the reins to freshman Nicole Christensen in the second.

Christensen hurled four shutout innings for her fifth victory of the year, striking out three batters and throwing 45 of her 62 pitches for strikes.

On Saturday, pitching and timely hitting were key in the Bulls’ victories. In the first game, Dowd scored the first run. Dowd went to second base off a single by Riker. After a sacrifice groundout by Liwag, Lewellen drove in Dowd with a suicide squeeze bunt. The Bulls then tacked on two more runs in the third and fourth innings to make it 3-0. That was all Ellis needed, as she shut the 49ers out the rest of the way. Ellis struck out six and walked two while allowing one hit in seven innings.

“I was just trying to work all the corners,” Ellis said. “I didn’t throw too many changeups, and I was working my curveball and screwballs more.”

In Saturday’s second game, the 49ers quickly jumped on top, scoring two runs in the top of the third off starting pitcher Ellis. The lead lasted an inning, as the Bulls knotted it up at two in the bottom of the fourth. After a leadoff single by Lewellen, Holly Groves smashed the second pitch she saw over the right-field fence.

It was her eighth home run of the year, setting the single-season record. USF broke the tie, scoring a run in the bottom of the fifth and two more in the bottom of the sixth to make it 5-2.

Ellis threw her second complete game of the afternoon, her 21st of the year. Ellis struck out six hitters and lowered her ERA to a team-low 0.83.

Before the doubleheader, Ellis wasn’t sure if she was going to throw in the second matchup.

“I tried not to throw that many pitches in the first game,” Ellis said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to pitch again.”

After losing two of three to Southern Miss last weekend, the Bulls wanted to come out charged for this series.

“We were fired up after last weekend,” Ellis said. “We wanted to come out and sweep.”

USF’s next games are Wednesday, as the Bulls host a doubleheader against Florida starting at 4 p.m.

Thomas Carrigan covers USF softball and can be reached at oraclethomas@yahoo.com