Softball team looks to get back on track

To say that the USF softball team was on a roll before traveling to Arizona last weekend for the Worth Wildcat Invitational may be an understatement.

The Bulls had lost just twice in 17 games and had put together a pair of seven-game winning streaks, all while capturing numerous tournament titles. So it’s easily understood why the Bulls would come home disappointed after dropping three of four games during last weekend’s tournament, including the first two games in the opening day.

“We got off to a very slow start, and all parts of our game were suffering (last Friday), and that’s where the results came from,” USF associate head coach Stacey Heintz said.

But the Bulls (16-5) were able to bounce back in the second day to defeat a top-10 program before losing their final game of the tournament to No. 2 Arizona.

And because USF was able to respond after arguably the first tough day of the season, the Bulls head into this weekend’s Speedline Tournament in Clearwater and are optimistic about getting back on track.

“The good part was that we regrouped that night and came out (the next day) like we should have been the whole time and showed how good we are against a very good team,” Heintz said. “It was a very valuable learned lesson. The good thing was we played our worse and were (within) one run of winning those ball games, which shows how good we are. We were mentally able to regroup. I mean we came out on fire in the first inning; it showed here we are and were ready to play. It was very satisfying to show that we can do that, but hopefully we won’t allow that to happen again.”

The Bulls hope to get back on the right foot today when they face Mississippi and Mercer at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., respectively, in the first day of the tournament, which runs through Sunday.

Considering USF is coming off its first losing weekend of the season, it probably couldn’t be a better time to welcome back a very familiar face. USF coach Ken Eriksen will rejoin his team this weekend after being away for most of the season because of his duties with the U.S. National team.

“We’re very excited to have him back,” Heintz said. “It’s sort of a family member coming back with us. It will be exciting to have him back and it’s going to be a great weekend.”

Eriksen will coach the Bulls during the morning games before rejoining Team USA in the evening. Eriksen, one of the tournament directors, was able to set the tournament schedule so that the Bulls played their games in the morning and early afternoon, while the American squad will play in the evening. The exception is when the two teams meet Saturday night, which will feature Eriksen coaching Team USA against his own team.

This tournament could prove to be one of the most important for the Bulls this season. With ambitions of reaching the College World Series, this tournament will provide a similar atmosphere. Though the Bulls are the tournament hosts, it’s not at their home field. Playing at a neutral site is something most teams don’t get a chance to do very often, unless of course it’s in the CWS. And Heintz expressed the importance for the Bulls to get used to playing away from home, especially since the team has only played two road trips this season, and just one outside of Florida.

“It’s definitely important to get out and play outside of the comfort zone of your home field,” Heintz said. “You aren’t always going to have (home-field advantage). We went out on the road last weekend and we didn’t come out as focused as we should have, so we’re going to work on that this weekend, of getting over there and taking control of this tournament pretty early.”