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Almost champions: Blue Demons defeat Bulls in Big East tournament

Every season since joining the Big East conference in 2005, the South Florida softball team consistently inched its way closer to a conference championship.

In 2008, the Bulls earned their first regular season Big East championship and became the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

It was the first regular season Big East title won by any team in any sport since USF joined the conference.

Despite finishing seasons strongly, the Bulls fell short in the last two postseasons, losing to Pittsburgh in the first round of the 2006 Big East Championship tournament, and to Louisville in the semifinals in 2007.

This season, the Bulls made it to the finals as the No. 1 seed playing against No. 2 DePaul. The Blue Demons beat the Bulls 4-1.

“It wasn’t our day today,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “DePaul played very well. I thought we battled extremely hard, and we’ve just got to keep getting better. Hopefully we’ve got some big games coming up this weekend and we’ll see what happens.”

As the top seed in the tournament, expectations were high for the Bulls (44-18, 18-5) as they defeated Providence 8-6 – who they swept in the regular season – and recorded a 2-1 victory against a Louisville team that swept the Bulls this season.

The win against Louisville snapped a five-game losing streak going back as far as the conference semifinals last season. Eriksen said his team handled the pressure well throughout the tournament.

“I was very proud of the way they did the things they were supposed to do and I thought we executed well all weekend,” Eriksen said. “I thought we just ran out of time. It was too bad that we were down four, but we battled back – we had the tying run at the plate, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Junior second baseman Britta Giddens hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning to defeat the Cardinals.

“We played well in the second game we played against them this year. I thought we had two calls at home plate in the last inning that didn’t go our way,” Eriksen said. “We just had better opportunities to meet them with timely hitting. I thought (Louisville) played an extremely good game. Also, it was a good fast-pitch softball game. We just ended up on the lucky side.”

Senior pitcher Courtney Mosch and freshman pitcher Capri Catalano combined for 19 strikeouts against some of the top hitters in the conference, including DePaul’s Amber Patton. Patton leads the Big East in hits (75), but was unable to record one against the Bulls.

Despite being one pitcher down for the final month of the season, the Bulls’ rotation finished the season strongly. The Bulls lost junior pitcher Cristi Ecks for the season April 1 when she collapsed at practice.

Since Ecks’ collapse, USF went 15-6.

“We have made adjustments tremendously since (Ecks) went down April 1,” Eriksen said. “I don’t think (we made) any type of game plan change that we haven’t done since April 1.”

With an invitation to the NCAA championship tournament likely, the Bulls will look to prepare for the regionals in Gainesville.

“We’re really looking forward to next weekend and (to) see if we can get better than what we did this weekend. Hopefully the NCAA gives us an opportunity to continue the season,” Eriksen said.