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C-USA silent about USF’s not-so-silent bats

Every Monday, the Conference USA league office announces the week’s softball standout hitter and pitcher, supposedly recognizing the top person from each category based on her statistics.

But if someone pulled up the C-USA statistics from the conference Web site, he or she might think there was a major malfunction and that somehow USF’s individual season statistics were posted in place of the overall league’s.

Looking at the C-USA statistical leaders, it seems as though several of the Bulls’ hitters are being snubbed week in and week out as the best player in the conference that week.

Granted, senior pitcher Leigh Ann Ellis has won her share of Pitcher of the Week awards and rightfully so. Ellis leads the league in virtually every pitching category.

And though the Bulls pride themselves on pitching and defense, the latter of which has rebounded from a stretch when a significant amount of errors led to a few untimely losses in conference play, the offense has been dominant the entire season. However, somehow the Bulls are going unnoticed for their offensive supremacy.

Despite having at least two, and sometimes three or four, individuals ranked in the top five in every offensive category, only senior Holly Groves has been named C-USA’s Hitter of the Week. And that award has only come once.

“I’m kind of confused myself how all that’s done,” USF coach Ken Eriksen said. “It’s hard to ignore a pitcher like Leigh Ann, who puts up a record of 5-0, 4-0 each week. But when you have a hitter, the hitters we have now, doing what they’re doing against the competition we’re playing … and they’re not getting awards, it’s a little bit of a disappointment.

“It’s amazing to me that (we) have players like Kattrina Dowd, Holly Groves and Carmela Liwag that look like they’d be up for All-American positions right now, and you would think the conference would try to promote those type of players to promote the strength of the league. I think there are a couple of kids on our team that have been slighted, (and) I don’t mind saying it: It’s the truth.”

The most notable absence each week is Groves, who was passed over once this season after a week when she drove in 17 runs. Groves leads the conference in batting average (.458), home runs (14), RBIs (68), hits (65), total bases (122) and slugging percentage (.859), and she’s also broken the USF single-season records for home runs and RBIs with still more than one-third of a season to play. But where the conference may not be at fault is if it takes expectations of certain players into consideration. Groves, Liwag and Dowd were all preseason, all-conference selections, while the Bulls were picked to win C-USA before the season. And it may not help that the Bulls are hitting a C-USA-best .329 as a team, meaning they have a lot more opportunities to boost up their statistics, especially Groves, who has Dowd (.421 batting average), Liwag (.387) and Shelly Riker (.373) hitting in front of her.

“I don’t really think of myself as a big hitter,” Groves said. “It just happens that I get lucky. I honestly don’t think there is anyone in our lineup that can’t produce. That’s my opinion.”

And Eriksen agrees.

“The phones are ringing off the hook right now nationwide right now trying to get a scouting report to try and find a weakness on a lot of our kids,” Eriksen said. “It’s a lineup that if I was to pitch to all day, every day, I probably would not be sleeping a lot at night.”

Though recognition might not be coming at the rate it probably should, the Bulls are able to rest easy, knowing that because the offense has been so steady this season that even when the team isn’t at its best defensively, it still has a good chance to pull out a win.

“I think that the offense does carry us,” Groves said. “Defense and pitching does win games, but I guess it’s a good thing that our hitting has been as good as it has.

“Getting a lot of runs on the board helps, and it makes you not relaxed in the field, but it doesn’t make you as tight. And if you actually do make an error, if the offense does its job, then it’s not that crucial.”

What’s not crucial for the Bulls is being recognized for weekly awards. What is crucial for the Bulls is winning games. And despite the lack of prestige that goes with being recognized by their peers around the league, winning is the Bulls’ only concern.

“Our players aren’t playing for awards,” Eriksen said. “They’re playing for one thing, and that’s a ring on their finger. We want to win the (C-USA) regular-season crown, the conference tournament crown, the NCAA Regionals and get to the College World Series.

“They can have all their weekly awards as long as we get that big award at the end, and that’s the best thing we can say to all those types of people voting on those things. We’re going to play for the big award, and that’s the team award.”

The No. 21 Bulls (39-7, 7-2) can get one step closer to their goal when they host C-USA rival Saint Louis (13-24, 0-6) for a three-game series this weekend, beginning with a doubleheader Saturday at the USF softball complex.

During the team’s recent season-high 15-game winning streak, the Bulls have been able to avoid the one problem that plagued them in the opening weekend of conference play against Louisville- errors.

Though the Bulls have made a few errors in some of the games during the current win streak, those mistakes are mostly coming toward the end of the game, after the Bulls have established a lead. And that’s been one of the biggest differences, according to Eriksen.

“It’s a lot easier to run a race going downhill than it is uphill,” Eriksen said. “There was a stretch there for about two or three weeks when we were running uphill, and we got caught with a couple of losses against Louisville.

“But the stretch of the last 25 games we’ve been doing a lot of running downhil, because early in the game our pitching and defense has been pretty solid, and then we get a bunch of runs on the board.

“I feel pretty good about running downhill and continuing to run downhill, and if we can win the first inning every time out with our pitching, we’ve got a good chance to go ahead in the bottom of the first.”