USF ready for season

One pitch, one game is the South Florida softball team’s philosophy.

“We don’t look too far ahead,” said senior pitcher Cristi Ecks. “We take things one pitch at a time.”

Coach Ken Eriksen, entering his 12th season at USF, has encouraged his team to focus on this weekend’s opening games despite high expectations for the season. In 2008, the Bulls won the Big East regular season and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons.

“Right now, our main focus is solely the first pitch we’re going to face against UNC Greensboro,” Eriksen said.

USF will open the season this weekend, hosting five games at the USF Softball Field.

“Our approach is to work pitch-by-pitch,” said junior outfielder Tara Toscano. “We know that every game counts and anything can happen. This philosophy has worked for us over the past few years.”

Eriksen returns veteran players looking for a spot in the Women’s College World Series. The Bulls have four seniors: Ecks, pitcher Bree Spence and infielders Britta Giddens and Caitlin Schneider.

Giddens said she wants her senior season to be special.

“This year, I want everything I can possibly get,” she said. “I want to go as far as we can this year.”

Eriksen has 11 juniors returning to the team. Designated Hitter JoJo Medina, who had eight home runs and 36 RBIs last season, will lead the offense.

“I think we have a lot of experience in the infield,” Eriksen said. “We have players who have been put in tough situations before and have handled it well. I also believe we have a great pitching staff, and we have a tremendous core of players in the outfield.”

The Bulls will be up against tough competition, though.

USF will play No. 7 Arizona, No. 1 Florida and No. 18 Virginia Tech in Clearwater in non-conference games. Eriksen said this will challenge his players.

“I’ve always made a tough schedule,” he said. “I like to play a top-20 schedule, and we will play teams like Arizona. There is no name game here — we just want to go out there and play hard every game.”

Within the Big East, USF plays No. 15 DePaul and Louisville — two of the league’s top teams — on the road.

The Bulls are selected to finish second in the Big East, but Eriksen said it will be tough.

“I think it’s important to win all of our conference games,” he said. “We want to repeat as champions this year, and we must have the same approach every game no matter where we play.”

USF Athletics announced in January that the softball team posted its highest GPA in program history with a 3.41.

Eriksen said if the Bulls are smart, they will take this season one step at a time.

“I can’t wait to start,” he said. “Right now our main focus is UNC Greensboro, and I want our girls to have a great experience this year and just go out and play ball.”