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Softball drops two to Louisville

Junior Bree Spence takes over in the sixth inning in USF’s 5-4 loss to Louisville on Saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.

In a battle for sole possession of third place in the Big East, the softball team was swept in a doubleheader by Louisville in two one-run losses Saturday at the USF Softball Field. The Bulls couldn’t close out the victory in game one losing 3-2 in nine innings and were unable to finish the comeback in game two, falling 5-4.

The Bulls (31-19) fell into a tie for fourth place in the conference with Rutgers, both teams being 3-3 in Big East play. Last year, the Bulls swept a doubleheader on the road at Louisville, but the Cardinals returned the favor this year.

“I don’t know how bad these losses are going to affect us until the end of the next weekend,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “I hope that these losses don’t bother us because I really have a good feeling about the team, but I won’t know until after next weekend.”

USF, which hasn’t left the state of Florida to play a game this season, will go on the road for four consecutive doubleheaders beginning Friday. The Bulls have a doubleheader against Pittsburgh on Friday and Syracuse on Sunday.

In Saturday’s first game, the Bulls took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning. Sophomore Britta Giddens hit a one-out single and moved to second base on a ground out. Giddens came around to score on an RBI double by Kit Dunbar.

Bree Spence protected the one-run lead going 5 2/3 innings allowing five hits with three strikeouts and two walks. Cristi Ecks came on in relief in the sixth inning and was one out from wrapping up the win.

Ecks, however, allowed a run in the top of the seventh inning, sending the game into extra innings. Brooke McCrain hit the ball up the middle and Giddens was unable to corral the ball, allowing Missy Vascil to score the game-tying run.

“I think the bottom line boils down to this – we have to be able to close the deal,” Eriksen said. “When we have a lead we have to make defensive plays, routine plays and that’s killing us right now.”

Louisville capitalized on its second chance, loading the bases in the top of the ninth inning. McCrain stepped to the plate and delivered again with a single that scored two runs to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.

Louisville needed the extra runs as the Bulls scored a run in the bottom of the ninth inning and had a runner in scoring position. Louisville starter Kristen Wadwell ended the rally by getting Cat Olnick to fly out to finish the contest.

In game two, Courtney Mosch struggled on the mound allowing five runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings of work. Louisville scored one run in the first and three in the second to take a commanding 4-1 lead.

With the Cardinals leading 5-2 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Liz Howell blasted a two-run home run over the left-field fence to close the gap to 5-4. Howell’s two-run home run was the first of her career.

“Liz has been working very hard and she is getting serious about softball and it showed (Sunday),” Eriksen said. “It was a great coming out for her to show people that she can play Division I softball and contribute. That was a great positive for us.”