The Big East room in the USF Athletic Facility exploded into applause and cheers for a few minutes Sunday when the USF softball team discovered it had received an at-large bid to the NCAA Regional Tournament for the fourth consecutive year. The Bulls will face the University of North Carolina on Friday in the first round of the Gainesville Regional Tournament.
Despite securing the No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament last weekend, USF was upset by No. 7 seed Pittsburgh in the first round, forcing the Bulls to wait and see if they would reach the NCAA Tournament with their fourth at-large bid in as many years.
“I felt pretty good before we went to the Big East Tournament that we were in a good position,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “I’m glad that the committee didn’t really think that one game was a determining factor when you look at the whole season.”
While the team’s disappointing loss to Pittsburgh had some players slightly nervous while awaiting the NCAA Tournament announcement on ESPNEWS, most of the team felt that its season record would ensure an NCAA Tournament berth.
“We were excited,” senior Samantha Ray said. “I mean, there’s always that little sense of doubt, but we were pretty sure we were going to make it. We had a better year than last year and made it then, so we were pretty confident.”
Ray also hopes Pittsburgh’s upset of the Bulls will help motivate USF to step up its play in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think (the loss to Pittsburgh) was a big wake-up call that we can’t just throw our uniforms on the field,” Ray said. “That might be just what we needed to play well in regional.”
Senior Krista Holle, who has played on the last four NCAA Tournament teams along with Ray, was also confident the Bulls had established a tournament-worthy resumÃ© this season.
“I think we were confident,” Holle said about the Bulls’ shot at making the tournament. “Our record was pretty decent this year, and we’ve been playing pretty good softball the last couple months so I think that helped out a lot.”
After learning that the Bulls had received the at-large bid, Eriksen told his players they should be proud of their accomplishment. The 10-year coach said he had seen a lot of maturation in a team that, after starting the season 11-11, battled back to post a record of 47-23, good for second place in the conference in USF’s first year in the Big East.
“I think it shows maturity,” Eriksen said. “I think they just need to continue showing that type of maturity in the face of adversity.”
When asked if he was concerned about his team’s disappointing Big East Tournament performance, Eriksen said his team’s ability to recover from losses is one of its best assets.
“Well, I think that’s why we’ve done so well this year,” Eriksen said. “We have a short memory and sometimes things don’t go so well, but we’ve been able to bounce back and get some big victories. So I think that if you keep everything in the perspective that the next game is the most important, then we can continue to progress.”