Break out the brooms

After a mercy-rule-shortened win over Cincinnati on Sunday, which completed a three-game sweep against the Bearcats, USF baseball coach Eddie Cardieri said his hitters are starting to come around.

That may be an understatement after this weekend’s thrashing of the Bearcats.The Bulls (17-6, 3-0) started off Conference USA play with a bang, beating visiting Cincinnati 15-5 on Friday, 18-10 on Saturday, and 14-2 on Sunday.

“It’s just great to start out conference with a sweep. We wanted to get off to a good start in conference play, which we did by sweeping Cincinnati.”

But the Bulls did more than sweep the Bearcats (3-15, 0-3). They embarrassed them, seemingly using Cincinnati pitchers for batting practice. USF had 47 hits on the weekend, including 12 doubles and four home runs.

“Hopefully, we just got a little shot in the arm with some confidence,” Cardieri said. “Our hitters are coming around. I’m real pleased with how they looked up there at the plate.”

One player who stood out to Cardieri was catcher Devin Ivany, who had 11 RBIs on the weekend.

“He had a great week,” Cardieri said. “He’s been hotter than a firecracker.”

First baseman Matt McHargue also had a good weekend at the plate. The sophomore had a pair of home runs, which brings him to five on the season. Also, right fielder Bryan Hierlmeier hit a team-leading sixth homer of the year in Sunday’s win.

Casey Hudspeth (4-1) got the start Sunday fresh off of his win over No.6 Miami last week. The freshman gave up two runs in the first inning off four singles before he shut the door for his fourth win of the season. Hudspeth did not allow another run to score.

“He is a bulldog,” Cardieri said. “He had a great start. What I saw is that he gave up two in the first and then he said ‘uh-uh.’ He settled down after that, and they didn’t get anything off of him. He was very, very good. He is a very good competitor.”

In the second, USF would bounce back from the 2-0 deficit and score four runs, including McHargue’s solo home run.

The Bulls added to the lead in the fourth when they scored six more runs off doubles by Ivany, Brian Baisley and Travis Brown.

After four more runs in the fifth inning, USF just had to wait to complete seven innings before the 10-run mercy rule ended the game.

Kyle Schmidt (4-1) got his fourth win of the year, giving up three runs on six hits with six strikeouts in six innings Friday.

Chase Lirette (3-0) earned his third win of the year Saturday in relief of starter Nick Manganaro.

— By Thomas Simonetti

Entering this weekend’s three-game home series against Conference USA foe Southern Miss, the USF softball team had just one problem plaguing it, even if the Bulls were able to pull out victories in the most of their games.

So it’s no surprise the first remarks that came from USF coach Ken Eriksen’s mouth Sunday when asked how he thought his team played during the weekend after a three-game sweep against the Golden Eagles.

“No errors,” Eriksen said.

Well, there was one, and when it came, members of the Bulls (34-7, 4-2) probably thought the team’s Achilles’ heel was going to carry over throughout the weekend.

But following sophomore shortstop Christi Chapman’s error on the first play of the series Saturday, the Bulls played error-free ball, seemingly putting an end to the one thing wrong with their game.

“Twenty innings without making an error, and (we also) eliminated the walks, which is tremendous,” Eriksen said. “We’ve said from the beginning of the year, for us to be considered champions through the season we have to eliminate the walks and errors and we have to rely on pitching and defense.”

And Chapman, who committed that lone error Saturday, more than made up for it, especially in Sunday’s 7-2 win. Chapman made several great plays, even though some of them were probably closer that expected after she had trouble getting the ball out of her glove. But Eriksen commended his young shortstop for staying with the play and being aggressive, something coach Stacey Heintz said during the middle of last week was the main problem with USF’s defense.

“(Chapman) may have bobbled a couple coming through, but she was able to make the play because she was aggressive,” Eriksen said. “She was able to corral the ball and control the ball.”

The Bulls controlled the series from the start. While the defense was able to eliminate its problems, the offense continued to do what its been doing all season. And though the offense may not start with senior Holly Groves, it usually ends with her driving in the runs.

Groves broke USF’s single-season RBI record with a three-run home run in the fifth inning, her team-leading 11th of the season, in Saturday’s 5-3 victory against Southern Miss (14-17, 3-3). But what may have been more impressive was her fourth-inning at-bat against the Golden Eagles on Sunday.

Groves stepped to the plate with USF nursing a 4-1 lead and Carmela Liwag on second after a two-out double. Groves had a 2-0 count when a Southern Miss coach visited pitcher Danielle Wymer on the mound, more than likely telling her not to give Groves anything to hit with first base unoccupied.

However, Groves drove an outside pitch through the hole between first and second to score Liwag, giving her a team-leading 57 RBI on the season.

“What do you say (about Groves)?” Eriksen said. “In all honesty, she’s very much under control, her balance is tremendous and she’s seeing the ball well. It’s all the hard work she’s put in each day hitting that’s paying off.

“That’s a lot of respect you get when they’re unintentionally-intentionally walking you. That’s like saying don’t see the pink elephant, don’t see the pink elephant, but it happens all the time. But you have to give Holly a lot of credit because her walks are going up, and that just says that she’s real patient and she’s seeing the ball real well and trusting what she has.”

What Groves has is one of the most impressive offensive campaigns in school history under her belt with 28 games to play. And with the torrid pace she’s been on recently — a .660 average, 12 hits, four doubles, two home runs, 17 RBI and a 1.100 slugging percentage in the past week — it makes people wonder if she knows how well she’s doing at the plate. And Eriksen wonders about that also.

“My concern sometimes is that people do record watch,” Eriksen said. “But she blew by (the records) so fast, it obviously doesn’t bother her. So hell, if she’s watching them, (let her) keep watching them.”

But Eriksen knows it all starts with the other hitters in the lineup that enables Groves to be so successful out of the clean-up spot. And that may be the most impressive part about the Bulls.

Leadoff hitter Kattrina Dowd went 3-for-10 during the weekend series against Southern Miss, surprisingly dropping her average for the season to .448, which now is second on the team to Groves’ .456 average. And senior Shelly Riker, the Bulls second hitter, has a .353 average and a .459 on-base percentage.

“If you’re thinking about what (Dowd and Riker are) doing right now, Holly Groves should be buying them dinner just about every night,” Eriksen said.

–By Adam Adkins