Bulls roll to home tourney title

The USF softball team capped a perfect weekend with a 4-3 victory against Hofstra on Sunday at the USF softball complex. The victory gave the Bulls a 5-0 mark in capturing the USF Best Western Tournament title.

“I was actually very positive going into the weekend,” USF coach Stacey Heintz said. “Our goal was to win the tournament, and that was our focus — to be as dominant as we can be.”

The Bulls (15-2) started the tournament in dominating fashion. USF defeated Rhode Island 8-0 and Pittsburgh 10-0 on Friday, bringing the team’s consecutive shutout streak to four games.

The Bulls then notched a 2-1 extra-inning victory against N.C. State and a 3-2 victory against Tulsa on Saturday before winning their seventh consecutive game on Sunday against the Pride.

As she has throughout the early games this season, senior Leigh Ann Ellis continued her stellar performances on the mound. Ellis (10-1) earned four of USF’s five victories this weekend, allowing just two earned runs on six hits in 18 2/3 innings, while striking out 21.

“What stands out about Leigh Ann is her mental toughness,” Heintz said. “She takes the mound with a focus and that (puts) her apart from a lot of other people. She has a lot of confidence, and she continues to do her job when she gets in there.”

One person that did her job extremely well during the weekend was leadoff hitter Shelly Riker. In the five tournament games, the senior went 6-for-11 with six walks, helping her score six runs. Riker’s ability to get on base in this tournament — and throughout the season — has aided players like senior Holly Groves, who bats cleanup for the Bulls.

Groves had 7 RBI during the weekend, raising her team-leading total to 25, more than half the total she had all of last season.

“We have a great mix of speed and power and that’s what makes our lineup so strong,” Heintz said. “(Riker) has one of the highest on-base percentages on our team in all the years she’s been here. She does a consistent job of working the count, and with her speed, that really helps us.

“We always talk about getting speed on the bases and letting the power (hitters) hit them in.”

Though the Bulls moved through their home tournament during the weekend with what, on paper, seemed like relative ease, they face a sterner test when they travel west on Friday for the University of Arizona Tournament. Pac-10 powers Stanford and host Arizona, both of which are ranked in the top-10, await the Bulls, among others, in arguably their toughest weekend of the season.

However, the Bulls aren’t bothered by the reputations of their opponents and will enter this tournament with the same goal as any other this season — to win.

“It’s a tougher weekend just because it’s a travel weekend and the distance we’re going,” Heintz said. “(But) we’ve played a lot of good teams so far this season, and we’re looking to continue those challenges on the road.”