Bulls get the hook from Pirates

The USF softball team got the short end of some pitching duels in a three-game series against East Carolina.

The Bulls (26-17, 5-4 C-USA) played ECU (43-11, 9-3 C-USA) close — each game was decided by a single run — but the Pirates managed to take two out of three, 2-1, 4-3, and 2-1, respectively. Both teams brought their best to the mound but it was the Pirates who out-pitched the Bulls, holding them to six total runs in the series.

“You got to give credit to their pitching staff,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “They moved the ball around a little bit, shut down our hitters and got us out in some crucial situations.”

The first game set the tone for the series when freshman Bree Spence faced off against East Carolina’s Brently Bridgeforth. A pitcher’s duel emerged when Bridgeforth (13-1) pitched five innings and allowed only one run and Spence pitched a complete game while striking out five East Carolina batters.

The Bulls had a 1-0 lead going into the sixth when the Pirates’ Kate Manuse hit a single up the middle, with the bases loaded and one out, that scored two runs and gave ECU the lead, 2-1. ECU pitcher Keli Harrell (20-9) came into the game in the bottom of the seventh and pitched two innings, shutting down the Bulls’ bats. Sarah Watson was the only Bull to manage any scoring, as she went 2-for-3 and drove home USF’s only run in the game.

In the second game of the Saturday doubleheader, it looked like the Bulls were headed for back-to-back losses when they were down 3-1 going into the bottom of the seventh. But with two outs and runners on first and second, Samantha Ray hit a triple to left field that scored two, making the score 3-3 and forcing the game into extra innings.

Neither team could muster any offense, and the game moved into the 11th inning. When East Carolina failed to score a run after putting runners on first and third, the Bulls capitalized when Watson brought Carmela Liwag home with a double to left field.

Spence got the win, pitching the last four innings for the Bulls and allowing three hits.

The third game of the series was very much the same story as the first game.

The Bulls took a 1-0 lead into the sixth, but East Carolina mounted a two-run rally capped off by a RBI double by the Pirates’ Beth Nolan.

Down 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, the stage was set for some more late-inning heroics from the Bulls. But when Tiffany Stewart was called out in a close call at home, the Bulls could not manage to score.

Spence (12-8) saw action for the third time in the series as she went all seven innings for her 10th complete game of the season.

Although the Bulls slipped to 5-4 in C-USA, they remained in fourth place in the standings. Eriksen was confident — with a few good bounces — the weekend might have been a different story.

“In three one-run games we could have been 3-0 or 0-3, but we ended up 1-2,” Eriksen said. “We have got to get better tomorrow and we have got to come out and play (next time).”