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One step closer and still moving

Despite winning its first-ever regional round of the NCAA Tournament and earning a trip to Los Angeles to take on the UCLA Bruins – the No.1 team in the nation – in a best-of-three series, the USF softball team says it’s not finished yet.

“To win a regional is great and exciting, but I don’t think we got (too) excited about it,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “It was kind of expected for our team. At this point now, we’re starting to get excited about the anticipation of playing against another No. 1 team in the country.”

After early season games against Arizona (ranked No. 1 at the time) and Tennessee (ranked No. 3 at the time) the Bulls know the level of play they can expect from the Bruins, a team that holds 11 national softball titles.

“Our schedule has prepared us for this moment and we just have to take advantage of it,” Eriksen said.

The Bulls, one of 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament, are excited about the opportunity to play on a national stage and enjoying the knowledge that only two wins separate them from a College World Series appearance.

“We’re so pumped to get out there and play,” senior outfielder Samantha Ray said. “I don’t think I’ve been this excited in I don’t know how long. We’ve accomplished so much this year, and we’re not done yet.”

Third baseman Krista Holle agrees. The senior is excited that the team has taken the next step toward its ultimate goal of a College World Series appearance.

“It’s just so exciting for all of us, especially the seniors,” said Holle, one of four team captains for the Bulls this season. “When you come in, you expect to go to Oklahoma City every year and that’s what we’ve been working toward since day one. We’re on that road right now and we can’t wait to get on the plane and go to L.A. and play these games.”

As the Bulls prepare for their biggest softball series ever, they can be sure the Bruins will be ready to defend their home turf.

UCLA posted a 47-6 record this season and finished first in slugging percentage (.488) and home runs (62) in the Pac-10, a conference that also features softball powerhouses Arizona, California and Stanford.

While Eriksen is fully aware of the challenge the Bulls will face this weekend, the 10-year head coach also knows there isn’t a better stage for an underdog than on national television against the No. 1 team in the country on its home field.

“I think (playing No. 1 UCLA) only enhances (the excitement),” Eriksen said. “I mean, what’s a better stage than to play on national television against the No. 1 team in the country? My e-mail and phone hasn’t stopped ringing from potential recruits since we were named (to play the Bruins), people started to see the name USF against UCLA.”

SOFTBALL GAME TIMENo. 25 USF (50-23) at No.1 UCLA (47-6)When: Game 1, Sat., 6 p.m.; Game 2, Sun., 3 p.m.; Game 3, 6 p.m.Where: Easton Stadium, Calif.TV/Radio: ESPNU, 910 AM