Eriksen sees strength in freshman players

Throughout the season, USF’s freshman class has played a role in the Bulls’ success, and softball coach Ken Eriksen said he hopes the young members can carry it into Big East play.

The Bulls (27-13, 6-2) will host doubleheaders against Villanova (13-4, 0-0) and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-11, 1-1) this weekend at the USF Softball Field.

“When we go out and recruit players, we expect them to make contributions and play up to their potential immediately,” he said. “I had no doubt going into this season that our freshman class was capable of this, and they’ve all gotten better as the season has
gone along.”

Freshman center fielder Janine Richardson has consistently stayed in the middle of the lineup with a .333 average, a home run, three triples and 17 RBIs. Pitchers Brittany Bowles and Candace Howell are tied for the team lead in wins with six.

Shortstop Laura Fountain has a .250 average with two triples and seven RBIs. She said the freshmen are trying to stay focused on victories.

“We’re just trying to get some wins,” she said. “We’re focused on hitting the ball and getting runners on base. If we can do that, we can put pressure on the opponent’s defense and score more runs.”      

Fountain said her development this year has been a challenge, but it’s making her a better player.

“It’s been a mental and physical challenge for me this year,” she said. “I like competing, and the challenges I’ve faced this year have been good for me.”

On Saturday, the Bulls will face the Wildcats, who are 9-1 over their last 10 games, for the second time this season. USF defeated Villanova 4-2 at the Under Armour Invitational Championship March 8 in Clearwater.

Notre Dame is 4-1 over its last five, and has wins over Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Pacific so far this season. Eriksen said he tried to give his team rest to prepare for the games.

“The most important thing we’ve done this week is rest and recharge the batteries,” he said. “We’ve played a lot of games over the past couple of weeks, and we just have to get back in the mental state to be ready to play this weekend.”