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Jockeying for position

With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the USF softball team is looking to run the table and capture the No. 1 seed in the Conference USA tournament.

Before the No. 20 Bulls (46-12) can tackle their conference foes, they will have to get by Stetson.

Stetson (32-10) has been one of the top teams in Florida teams this year, winners of 23 of its last 30 games. Jennifer Buckley and Blake Hoorelbeke have been a dominant one-two pitching punch for the Hatters this year, with Buckley sporting a 10-6 record and 0.93 ERA. Hoorelbeke has been even stingier, going 21-4 with 157 strikeouts for a 0.99 ERA.

Despite holding a 35-3 all-time series advantage against the Hatters, USF coach Ken Eriksen says his team won’t overlook the Hatters, even with No. 6 DePaul (34-4) looming for a crucial three-game conference series this weekend.

“We’re not looking at Stetson as a tune-up by any stretch of the imagination,” Eriksen said. “They’re a very good team. Their record indicates that they’ve played some good softball this year, and I expect a good battle. We’ll tune up for DePaul on Friday.”

After Stetson and DePaul, the Bulls wrap up their season against Houston on May 3. Eriksen knows these next two weeks will be important for the conference seeding.

“There’s no question about it,” Eriksen said. “I think these next two games for us and the six games going into the C-USA tournament are huge.”

As of Wednesday, the Bulls hold the No. 2 seed in conference. If the Bulls sweep DePaul and No. 3 seed Houston, the Bulls will finish with 20 wins and the No. 1 spot. Even if they lose their six remaining conference games, the Bulls will finish no lower than the No. 3 seed.

Ace Leigh Ann Ellis is a virtual lock to break the innings pitched record of 253 this week with 240 2/3 innings pitched already. With a chance to rest in the non-conference doubleheader against the Hatters, Ellis will still pitch Thursday.

“We’re not going to change our gameplan at all,” Eriksen said. “Leigh Ann will pitch Game 1 (today), and we’ll go from there. We’ll play it by ear and be creative just like we have been.”

Eriksen has certainly been creative with Ellis. Despite starting four of the past seven games, Ellis came in relief in the other three and notched a victory in all of them. Ellis now owns a season-high seven-game winning streak.

A couple of Bulls will be chasing records in today’s doubleheader. Carmela Liwag and Holly Groves are gunning for the RBI record of 48, standing at 47 and 42 RBI, respectively.

The offense is second in the conference in batting average, hitting .311. The Bulls lead the conference in RBI (256), hits (469), runs (289) and total bases (644).

Thomas Carrigan covers USF softball and can be reached at