Softball seniors bid farewell

Over the past four years, the 2009 softball senior class has achieved many postseason accomplishments. Now, it’s hoping to solidify another postseason spot.

USF (30-20, 9-9) looks to clinch a place in the Big East tournament this weekend as it plays its final home series of the season, when the Bulls host a doubleheader against Providence (14-29, 6-9) on Friday at the USF Softball Field.

Before the game, the Bulls will honor five seniors who are playing their last home games: second baseman Britta Giddens, pitchers Cristi Ecks and Bree Spence, infielder Caitlin Schneider and catcher Liz Howell.

As freshmen, the group made it to the program’s only super regional before losing to UCLA. They also participated in two NCAA tournaments. Last season, they won the Big East regular season championship.

As individuals, the seniors have many accomplishments as well.

Giddens is in the top 10 of several categories on USF’s all-time list, including home runs (18), hits (226) and doubles (46).

“It’s been a great career for me,” Giddens said. “One of the greatest things I’ve done since I’ve been here is become a member of the 200-hit club. I’m sad to go, but I couldn’t have asked for a better college career.”

Meanwhile, Ecks has overcome last year’s season-ending injury to have a solid senior season. She leads the team with a 1.90 ERA and has posted a 6-2 record. She is also USF’s all-time leader in saves (17).

Schneider has played in 27 games this season and Howell has appeared in 11.

Eriksen said his senior class is a special group.

“I can’t say enough about our seniors,” he said. “(Bree) Spence and (Cristi) Ecks were a big part of our super regional team in 2006. Ecks has overcome so much this year to return to her dominant form. (Britta) Giddens is the type of player I’d like to have here until I retire. (Caitlin) Schneider has done everything we’ve asked her to do here. (Liz) Howell has been able to overcome a lot of injuries to have a solid career here. I think the emotions won’t really kick in until the season is officially over.”

The Bulls sit at sixth place in the Big East, one game behind St. John’s. With two wins Friday, USF would qualify for its fourth consecutive conference tournament, May 7-9 in Louisville.

“The one thing we have to do this week is work on the basics,” Eriksen said. “We have to put the pressure on Providence really early and keep that going throughout the two games … I believe our conference can send four or five teams to the NCAA tournament this year. Once we get in the tournament, we’ll be a dangerous team that nobody will want to play.”

Spence said this weekend will be bittersweet, as she’s sad her career is ending soon but excited to move on.

“My time here has helped me grow as a person,” she said. “It hit me hard when my mother told me that she couldn’t wait to see me pitch for the last time. At the same time, I’m looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life, and hopefully it will be as good as this experience has been.”