Nevins experiencing freshman success

After earning two wins, including a complete game shutout, and striking out 24 batters against the defending Big East Champions Syracuse, USF freshman left-hander Sara Nevins was named Big East pitcher of the week Monday.

This is newest in a long line of awards and accolades Nevins had earned since her freshman year at Pinellas Park High School. The Bay-area native was named MVP all four years of her high school career and was named all-state pitcher of the year on separate occasions after her sophomore and senior years.

In 2005, she was the first player on the east coast to win the Gatorade National Player of the Year award.

Coach Ken Eriksen said he feels lucky that such a talented player went to high school so close to Tampa.

“We have to go out and get the best kids possible,” Eriksen said. “It just so happens that Sara Nevins was in our backyard. Fortunately, she wanted to stay and play in her hometown area.”

Nevins carried her high school momentum into her collegiate career, posting 137 strikeouts and allowing just 14 walks so far during her first season of college softball. As a left-handed pitcher she can attack the plate more aggressively against the multitude of left-handed batters in softball.

“It is all about matchups and she faces left- and right-handed batters well, but really dominates left-handed hitters,” Eriksen said.

Assistant coach Monica Triner said she believes part of Nevins’ success comes from her mental attitude in the circle.

“She doesn’t think about it too much, she just goes out there and pitches,” Triner said. “(Nevins) is very talented. She will go right at (batters) and trust us to know they won’t be able to hit her. That’s what makes her so special, she just gets out there and lets it flow.”

In softball, a pitcher’s back foot must remain on the ground throughout the pitching motion for the pitch to be considered legal, something Nevins struggled with earlier this season. Triner, a former USF pitcher who earned her All-American status as a Bull in 1998 and 1999, has helped Nevins change her pitching motion to reduce the number of illegal pitching calls she is subjected to.

“I had to change some things up and take some speed off,” said Nevins, who throws at nearly 70 mph. “I was kind of scared at first, but it all worked out even better.”

Because of the shorter pitching distance in softball, a 70-mph softball pitch is comparable to a 100-mph pitch in baseball.

“We have been battling it pretty hard for the last week and a half,” Triner said.

Though Nevins is just a freshman, Eriksen said he has high hopes for his young star.

“(Nevins) reminds of Leigh Ann Ellis and Monica Triner,” he said. “I didn’t have a Leigh Ann Ellis her first two years, but (Nevins) has the same talent and ability as them.”

Ellis holds the No. 1 and 2 spots in the USF record book for victories, strikeouts and shutouts in a season and Triner holds the USF career records in strikeouts and victories. Nevins is on pace to reach the No. 5 spot in strikeouts in just one season.

Fans will have a chance to see Nevins in action this weekend when the Bulls host Georgetown in a three-game Big East series. USF will play a doubleheader against the Hoyas on Saturday at 1 p.m. before the series finale Sunday at noon at the new USF Softball Stadium.