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Bulls return from 10-day break to meet Knights

After compiling a 41-12 record and a No. 22 national ranking, the USF softball team is coming off its first extended break in 53 games.

The Bulls host Central Florida today in a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. to start a run of 12 games in the next two weeks.

The last time USF took the field was April 5 at Saint Louis.

USF coach Ken Eriksen said this was a much-needed break for his young team.

“We got our legs back,” Eriksen said. “A couple people healed up really nice, so that was a good thing. Out of the last seven days, we practiced five days. Everybody has had a break in the season, but we’re the only team that hasn’t so far in the country. So it’s been nice to finally catch up on a lot of things.”

Even though this is only UCF’s (33-23) second year of softball play, Eriksen knows the Golden Knights will pose a formidable challenge.

“If you take a look at last year, they were ranked in the top 30,” Eriksen said. “They have a very good pitcher in Dottie Cupp, who was a National Junior College All-American and national-team player. They got kids who’ve played JC ball and they’re doing well with them.”

Even with UCF having an upstart program and being an hour away, Eriksen downplays any ‘rivalry’ factor between the two teams.

“I don’t think of rivalries,” Eriksen said. “The media does the rivalries stuff. We just play every day. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We don’t get up any different for anybody than anybody else. Every game is a tough game for us.”

The Bulls and the Golden Knights haven’t had a chance to form any kind of rivalry because the two teams have never faced each other.

When the teams have their first meeting today, Cupp will face the Bulls’ ace, Leigh Ann Ellis.

Ellis (23-6), who is making a run at an All-American selection, has thrown in 39 games while starting 31 and recording a 0.97 ERA. The second-ranked Bull in the number of games pitched is Nicole Christensen, who has made 16 appearances.

“(Ellis is) a horse and has been getting the ball for us,” Eriksen said. “She’ll be throwing Game 1 for us.”

Cupp has put together a 15-9 record and a 1.70 ERA while pitching in 25 games.

Along with Ellis, the team has been carried by its offense, which is headlined by seniors Courtney Lewellen and Renee Oursler.

Lewellen is batting .399 with three home runs and 35 RBI, while Oursler is batting .370 with three home runs and 20 RBI.

With five hitters hitting above .300, the offense will provide a challenge for the Golden Knights’ defense, which has 53 errors.