USF prepared for home stand

The USF softball team enters the home stretch of the Conference USA schedule this Saturday when the Bulls open a three-game home series against UAB at the USF Softball Complex.

The Bulls (44-8, 12-3 in C-USA) are in second place in C-USA, one game behind Louisville. However, the Bulls need to make up a pair of games to overtake the Cardinals after dropping two of three games to Louisville earlier this season.

The last nine games — three, three-game series — may not seem like a lot, the Bulls aren’t going to start worrying about the outcome of Cardinals games just yet.

“It’s too early for us,” junior first baseman Carmela Liwag said. “And as a team I think we fell that way too. Louisville has probably two of their hardest series coming up, in my opinion.”

Louisville has a three-game home series against Charlotte sandwiched between road series at Houston and Southern Miss to complete its conference schedule. The Bulls swept both the 49ers and Golden Eagles earlier this season and host the Cougars for a three-game series next weekend.

“I think truly you need to focus on what you’re doing,” USF coach Stacey Heintz said. “Our goal right now is to win every game the rest of the way. If we take time out to watch Louisville, we’re going to miss what’s happening right on our own field.”

USF’s home field may be the advantage the Bulls need to jump back into the top spot in the league standings. USF hasn’t lost a C-USA game at home and has lost just twice at home all year, the last one coming Feb. 15 against Michigan State, which bodes well considering USF hosts six of its nine final conference games.

In their last 12 home games, all victories, the Bulls have averaged seven runs per game. And though the Bulls tend to go with coach Ken Eriksen’s motto — pitching and defense wins you championships — the offensive surge this season might be cause for a change.

“I do believe (pitching and defense wins championships), but hitting is very key for us right now,” Liwag said. “Our defense has fallen into place, our pitching is coming along great and our offense is right up there with it. I mean you can’t win games without scoring runs. You can have the greatest defense in the world, and I think we have one of the better defenses, but if you don’t come out on top of the other team you’re not going to win games.”

Winning out the rest of the league schedule may be what USF needs to accomplish. And though the Blazers (16-26, 3-12) have lost eight consecutive games and don’t seem to pose a serious threat to the Bulls on paper, that doesn’t undermine the significance of this series for any of the Bulls players.

“This weekend is just as big as the ECU weekend (last weekend) or the DePaul weekend coming up,” Liwag said. “Each game that we play we’re going out there to dominate and beat that team and let them know that they don’t belong on the field with us.

“We’re going to put it to them right from the start and just come out there and win.”

Bulls ink junior college standout

The USF softball team received a National Letter of Intent from Manatee Community College catcher Kim Riker on Thursday, bringing the total number of new recruits to three for the 2005 season.

Riker, who’s currently hitting .326 with six doubles and 20 RBIs, is the younger sister of USF senior outfielder Shelly Riker. Tampa Chamberlain’s Carly Griffin and Countryside’s Bree Sprence already signed with USF.