Big blast caps sweep

During Thursday’s batting practice, junior Tiffany Stewart was frustrated after popping up several pitches and asked USF coach Ken Eriksen what she was doing wrong. Eriksen gave Stewart a few tips and the next time she stepped into the batter’s box, she drove the ball over the left-center field wall.

When Stewart came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth inning Sunday against Saint Louis with a chance to end the game by the mercy rule, she was thinking about another thing that went wrong at the plate. But this time it happened in the first inning of the game.

“I was thinking in my head what happened in that first at-bat when the bases were loaded and I watched a strike on the outside corner and struck out,” Stewart said. “I figured if my teammates were nice enough to get on base, I might as well do something.”

What Stewart did was hammer Billikens pitcher Kristin Rossi’s 3-2 pitch over the right-field wall for a game-ending grand slam home run, giving the Bulls an 11-0 victory that capped a three-game sweep at the USF softball complex.

“She’s got unbelievable power, and when she’s there, it’s pretty awesome to watch,” Eriksen said.

Sunday’s win capped the third consecutive sweep against a league opponent, helping the Bulls (42-7, 10-2) run their winning streak to a season-high 16 games.

There were two constants for the Bulls this weekend against Saint Louis (13-27, 0-9). First was senior pitcher Leigh Ann Ellis, who allowed five hits and struck out 20 in 13 innings, earning her two of USF’s three wins.

The second was USF’s offense, which exploded for 26 runs in the three games against the Billikens.

“There’s not much you can say (about the offense),” said Stewart, who broke open the first game of a doubleheader Saturday, a 7-0 win, with a three-run double. “I just think as a team we need to come out a little earlier, but our offense is just incredible right now. That’s all you can really say about it.”

Stewart led the way, going 5-for-6 with seven RBIs and three runs scored in the series.

Because of the offensive production during series against the Billikens, USF stranded an unusual amount of runners. The Bulls left 29 people on base during the weekend, but Eriksen said there is a good reason that happened.

“It’s gonna happen,” Eriksen said laughing, “if you keep putting them on base. Think about it. How many times did we hit a line drive and they doubled us off to end an inning? How many times did we hit a bullet for the third out? Things are going to happen like that.

“An important thing to realize is that Saint Louis’ pitchers, they really didn’t challenge us a lot. You know, they’re nitpicking, they’re nitpicking and they’ll sneak a strike in there here and there. And it’s really tough to hit against that type of pitching when they don’t challenge you. It kind of kept our big guns off balance a little bit, but I think they made some pretty good adjustments (Sunday).”

Sophomore Kattrina Dowd made one of the biggest adjustments. After going 0-for-3 in the first game of the series, USF’s second baseman went 7-for-9 in the final two games, including a 4-for-4 performance Sunday.

Junior Carmela Liwag added a three-run double in the Bulls’ first game Saturday, while sophomore Krista Holle broke a 2-2 tie with a two-run home run — her first of the season — in USF’s 8-2 victory in the second game of the doubleheader.

The Bulls return to action Friday when they travel to C-USA opponent East Carolina for a three-game series.