Softball ready for more

If it’s true that defense wins championships, then the USF women’s softball team could come out on top in its last year in C-USA. With solid pitching, smashing glove work and, more recently, a handful of first-year players, the Bulls (2-3) look forward to starting and ending the 2005 season.

Despite a record-breaking year for the Bulls, who were 60-14 in 2004, last season remains ancient history. According to junior outfielder Tiffany Stewart, the Bulls were “robbed” during the conference finals in 2004, and now have only one thing in mind for the upcoming season.

“Obviously our first goal is to win conference,” Stewart said. “We’re coming back, we’ve been working really hard, and we’ve got some new people that are really going to step it up this year. (We will) try to go out and hit ’em hard, and get on into the season.”

Stewart, a North Carolina native, led the Bulls with four triples in 2004 and was third on the team in runs, with 46, and also had seven home runs.

“We’ve got just about everyone coming back in the field, and with the addition of Carly (Griffin) in the outfield, we’re going to be dominant defensive-wise. Our bats have always been,” Stewart said.

While Stewart is returning, some of the freshmen additions include Tampa native Griffin, pitcher Bree Spence of Clearwater, and catcher Laura Wolf of Texas.

Coach Ken Eriksen comes into his ninth season for the Bulls after spending much of the summer assisting the U.S. women’s softball team to an Olympic gold medal.

“He’s still the same Ken,” said first baseman Carmela Liwag, a senior out of Largo. “It’s good to have him back. It’s kind of different from having Stacy (Heintz) and Amber (Wright) there all the time. He pumps us up during practice, you hear him talking a lot to us, things like that. It doesn’t necessarily run quicker, but we get a lot accomplished.”

Eriksen has become the essential coach his softball team needs. When the stress of competition or the challenges facing the women get too tough to handle, it’s Eriksen who is first to their aid.

“As far as intensity goes, when you get down on yourself and you really need someone to get you up, it would be Ken,” Stewart said. “I think they complement each other well. But when you’re at the point and it’s just like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing wrong?’ you just need someone to come over and be like, ‘Look, take a couple steps back, look what you’re doing,’ it’s just good to have them.”

The Bulls will continue the 2005 season in the Florida Tournament, starting Feb. 11, and will face Notre Dame, Coastal Carolina and Florida.

If all goes well before dawn in the Big East world, the Bulls will clinch their foreseeable goal of conference champions: a championship, which could be the grandest slam out of C-USA field.