USF loses in Big East tourney semifinals

The South Florida softball team arrived at the Big East tournament in need of two wins to better their NCAA tournament chances, but only got one.

The No. 5 Bulls (34-22) defeated No. 4 Syracuse (30-21) 5-4 Thursday, but fell 4-0 to No. 1 DePaul (37-12) on Friday at the Big East tournament in Louisville, leaving their NCAA tournament hopes in question.

“I thought we played well over the past couple of days,” said USF coach Ken Eriksen. “Unfortunately for us, we happened to run into a really good pitcher (Friday).”

The Bulls faced Big East Pitcher of the Year, DePaul’s Becca Heteniak, who set the tone in the first inning, hitting a two-run home run to give the Blue Demons a 2-0 lead.

On the mound, she shut down the Bulls, pitching a complete game one-hitter, with nine

“I think you have to give Heteniak a lot of credit,” Eriksen said.  “There’s a reason she’s the Big East Pitcher of the Year and she showed it.”

The Bulls got solid pitching from freshman Candace Howell.  Despite the home run, she settled down to pitch 5 1/3 innings, giving up three hits, one walk while striking out six. Howell said she regretted putting her team in an early hole, though.

“I wish I could take back that pitch,” she said. “I didn’t give my offense a lot of confidence going to the plate after the home run.  After that, I thought I pitched pretty well.”

In Thursday’s quarterfinal, the Bulls trailed the Orange 1-0 heading into the seventh inning. However, junior catcher Cat Olnick hit a two-out, two-strike RBI single to tie the game and send it into extra innings.

In the ninth, the Bulls scored four runs — three of which came from junior third baseman Alison Savarese’s triple — and USF held off a Syracuse rally to preserve the victory.

“Over the past couple of weeks, our team has been able to overcome deficits,” Eriksen said. “We did that against Providence and Seton Hall and were able to do it again (Thursday). We have a young team, and we found out that our team is resilient and full of character.”

With the regular season over, the Bulls, who’ve reached the NCAA tournament five of the last six years, are waiting to hear their postseason fate. 

Eriksen said he’s hoping USF’s fourth place finish in the Big East, and a No. 44 RPI, will impress the selection committee.

“I would love to say that I’m 100 percent confident that we’re in, but I’m not,” he said. “I’m hoping for the best and hope the committee gods are with us.”