It’s like shooting ducks on a pond.
Normally, it’s the perfect metaphoric mindset to have going into the NCAA knockout tournament.
But the Bulls found out this weekend what happens when the metaphor becomes reality — and the ducks start shooting back.
The Bulls best season in school history came to a screeching halt Saturday with a 2-1 defeat against the Oregon Ducks.
The loss, the second in as many days to Oregon (42-20), ended a rollercoaster regional trip that included four complete games and 36 strikeouts by star pitcher Leigh Ann Ellis (43-8), but also the Bulls’ worst loss in team history.
The Bulls’ (60-14) only losses in the tournament came at the hands of the Ducks, who outscored USF 14-1 in the two-game set.
The biggest win of the tournament for USF came against in-state rivals UF. The 8-1 pounding of the Gators came with USF on the brink of elimination after defeating Ohio State and getting scolded by the Ducks the previous day.
Cal. State-Northridge was the last team USF defeated in the regional tourney, a 7-3 victory that propelled the Bulls into the semifinal versus the Ducks.
A combination of fatigue and silent bats were the final culprits that led to the suffocation of the Bulls’ tourney chances.
Ellis sucked it up on the surface, but it became clear that she needed some rest after throwing tirelessly during the three-day tourney span.
Resident basher Holly Groves — who led the nation with 80 regular-season RBI and 17 home runs, both bests in Conference USA history — ended her season in a funk that started in the C-USA tourney and carried over into the NCAA’s.
Outside of her 3-for-4 day at the plate versus UF, which included 2 RBI and her 18th home run, Groves struggled at the plate all weekend.
Coach Ken Eriksen, whose success leading the Bulls earned him an invite as an assistant coach for the 2004 U.S. Olympic softball squad, failed to advance the Bulls past the NCAA tourney’s regional stage for the second straight year.
The coaching staff was unavailable for comment after the series.
The elimination losses to a tough Oregon squad are the final blemishes on a record-setting season for the Bulls.
After setting a team record in wins and various individual records, the Bulls came up just short once again of the ultimate goal. The team will surely pick up the pieces and continue to strengthen its growing legacy as a softball powerhouse.
And maybe next time they’ll be better prepared to enter the pond.