Of all the moves USF coach Ken Eriksen has made this year, on Wednesday he might have been his best.
Behind 4-2 against UCF with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Shelly Riker was due up up to bat with Renee Oursler and Kattrina Dowd on base. Eriksen called time and pinch-hit Rena Rodriguez for Riker.
The result? A three-run home run to put the Bulls up 5-4.
The victory was half of a two-game sweep of UCF; the No. 22 Bulls (43-12) won the first game 9-0.
Eriksen made the switch because he felt he needed a big hitter for the situation.
“Rena worked hard last week about being aggressive,” Eriksen said. “So if she was going to get a pitch to hit, she was going to take a wail at it and that’s what we needed right there.”
After a scoreless first inning, UCF took the lead in the second scoring two runs. USF battled right back in the bottom half tying it up on a RBI triple by Christie Chapman and an RBI single by Krista Holle. USF starter Nicole Christensen started to struggle and was pulled with a 3-2 UCF lead.
“When I took Nicole out, I told her that she had nothing to be ashamed of, we had 10 days off,” Eriksen said. “The pitchers haven’t thrown to live batters, so we knew Wednesday was going to be a little bit of a struggle with timing, and it proved it was.”
UCF pitcher Taylor Sawyer had the Bulls off-balance, throwing a repertoire of fastballs, changeups and a slow drop balls. Early on, it was evident as the team was pulling a lot of balls to the third base side.
“More than anything else, she kept us a little bit off balance with speed changes,” Eriksen said. “When we aren’t patient, the changeup is going to get you, but we did some good things in timely hitting.”
Gail Callinan and Leigh Ann Ellis came in relief, combining to pitch 4 2/3 shutout innings for the Bulls. Ellis threw two innings, striking out four, to pick up the win in relief.
“I didn’t want them to get another chance,” Ellis said. “They scored some runs on lucky hits and we didn’t want that to happen anymore.”
In the first game, the Bulls didn’t get on board until a Courtney Lewellen RBI sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third. USF poured it on in the bottom of the fourth, pushing across eight runs off eight hits.
Oursler was the catalyst for the Bulls in the fourth. She led off with a double to left field. After a Holle single, Samantha Ray drove in the second run with a single to left field. With the score 5-0 and the bases loaded, Oursler hit her second extra-base hit of the inning, hitting a mammoth grand slam over the left field wall.
“It’s nice when you score nine runs,” Eriksen said. “They were swinging the bat well.”
The Bulls continue conference play as they host a three-game series against Louisville Friday.
Thomas Carrigan covers softball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org