Youth was served for the USF softball team in a three-game conference series against Charlotte on Saturday and Sunday.
Underclassmen made some big plays and the Bulls’ young pitching staff — freshman Bree Spence and sophomore Kasey Cash — dominated opposing hitters to help the Bulls sweep their conference foe. Together, the pair held Charlotte (13-32-1, 2-15 C-USA) to a combined eight hits and three runs in the series to help the Bulls improve to 32-20 on the season and 10-5 in Conference USA.
“I don’t think (Cash or Spence) walked a batter this weekend,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “You have to avoid the walks and errors to win down the stretch and our staff is doing a pretty good job of that.”
In the series opener, the Bulls would need every inning of their pitching staff’s best stuff to beat the 49ers 1-0.
Lucky for the Bulls, Spence pitched her best as she faced the 49ers’ Kristan Bowen in a pitcher’s duel. The only run in the game came in the bottom of the first inning when Christie Chapman, the leadoff batter, hit a solo shot to straightaway center field. The home run from Chapman was all Spence would need as she would allow no runs and two hits in her 11th complete game of the season.
In Saturday’s second game, the Bulls had their bats working along with their pitching to beat the 49ers 9-1.
Cash made the start and stepped up for the Bulls by pitching four innings and allowing only two hits.
The Bulls’ offense was clicking as they scored in every inning in a game that was cut short in the fifth because of the eight-run mercy rule. Freshman Carly Griffin led all USF hitters, going 3-for-3 with a home run.
USF headed into the third game against Charlotte looking to complete the sweep of the 49ers. But the 49ers scored two runs in the second inning and the Bulls found themselves down 2-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
With runners on first and third, Griffin hit a single to left field to bring home a run and tie the game at 2-2. With one out and the bases loaded, the stage was set for another freshman — Laura Wolf — to make a play on offense. Wolf hit a sacrifice fly to deep left field, scoring the runner from third and giving the Bulls the go-ahead run.
Spence (15-11) started the game and gave up three hits and one earned run. Cash came in relief and gave up no hits while striking out three batters in the final three innings.
The sweep keeps the Bulls four games back of first place DePaul in the C-USA standings and gives them a six game winning streak — their longest of the year. The outstanding play of their young players has improved the team’s chances of reaching one of its goals — making the NCAA tournament.
“For our freshmen to come up offensively, it’s huge,” Eriksen said. “The sweep is huge. You’re not going to get the sweep if you don’t have people stepping up, and they stepped up this weekend.”