The last time the USF softball team played Florida on Feb. 7, the Bulls were 6-1 and barely tested.
It was the bottom of the seventh inning and the Bulls were up 3-2. With ace Leigh Ann Ellis on the mound, the game looked all but wrapped up.
But with no outs, third baseman Krista Holle made a fielding error, and Ellis walked the next batter to put baserunners at first and second. After a sacrifice bunt to move the runners, Lindsey Cameron knocked home the game winner with a two-run double to right center as the Gators completed the comeback.
You think the bitter loss to an in-state rival still resonates in Ellis’ mind? You bet it does.
“I remember the entire game, and we should’ve won,” Ellis said. “We didn’t make the plays and have the pitching we needed at the end. I was sore about that game, and I take the blame for it.”
With USF the highest ranked team in Florida at No. 23 and the Gators right behind at No. 25, there’s a sense of state supremacy hinging on today’s doubleheader.
USF coach Ken Eriksen feels that it will be just another game.
“It just so happened that Florida falls in the schedule between two conference games,” Eriksen said. “We both have big weekend series coming up, and it’s nice to get some good competition in. Both schools are in a pretty close proximity to each other and are playing really good softball this year. It’s nice that both our and their programs are doing pretty good right now.”
Playing against a team like Florida, Eriksen knows his team will have to play good defense to win against the Gators.
“Anytime you play against decent competition and you’re coming down to the nitty-gritty part of your schedule, it comes down to your defense and pitching,” Eriksen said. “Your defense picks you up the whole time, and hopefully, you can score yourself some runs.”
With Ellis carrying the majority of the pitching load this year, she will start the first game against the Gators. As for her pitching the second game, it depends on the outcome of the first.
“It’s going to depend on how everyone wakes up in the morning and feels,” Eriksen said. “Right now, I foresee Leigh Ann starting one game only. Conference is the most important thing, and we got that coming up this weekend. We’ll get a few innings out of Leigh Ann, and we’re going to throw (freshman) Nicole (Christensen) some.”
Riding a 28-game home winning streak, the Bulls have even more motivation to continue that success. According to Eriksen, that success is built on the fundamentals.
“All along, there’s been no secrets to our success,” Eriksen said. “It’s being able to catch and throw and get good pitching.”
Thomas Carrigan covers USF softball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org