With strong pitching staff, Bulls head into USF Invitational

Sam Greiner hadn’t yet played for USF when she was handed the ball as starting pitcher for the Bulls’ 2012 season opener last Friday.

Coach Ken Eriksen has a history of letting his freshmen pitch often and get experience on the diamond early, rather than easing them into the rotation, and Greiner’s performance against Maine showed the value in his philosophy.

A highly rated freshman out of Sparta, N.J., Greiner joined a team that saw Sara Nevins set a school record in saves and make the All-Big East First Team as a freshman last season.

In her debut, Greiner threw six scoreless innings against the Black Bears, allowing just three hits and striking out nine but it was her poise that reassured Eriksen in his decision.

“I thought, for a freshman, (Sam’s poise and control) were about a nine, nine and a half, which says a lot,” Eriksen said. “That’s pretty darn good. I’ve only seen one 10 in my life, and that was in a gold medal game in Athens back in 2004 with (Lisa) Fernandez. … You get nine, nine and a half on a scale of 10 out of a freshman on opening day, that’s pretty good stuff.”

Greiner said she was told after Wednesday’s practice that she would be getting the start Friday.

“It was kind of a surprise, because I wasn’t expecting to start,” she said. “As a freshman, I’m just here to play whenever (Eriksen) needs me or get any opportunities I can. When he told me I was starting, I was thrilled. I just wanted to perform for my team.”

But finding out early, rather than just before the first pitch, allowed nerves to creep into Greiner’s mind.

“At first I was really excited, but then I got to thinking, ‘Wow, I’m actually starting my first game,'” she said. “I was nervous. Before the game, I was just really quiet, trying to prepare mentally for everything.”

With her first-weekend nerves now in the past, Greiner joins a four-pronged pitching staff that includes senior Brittany Bowles, who is nearing game fitness after recovering from a virus, junior Lindsey Richardson and sophomore Sara Nevins.

Greiner, Richardson and Nevins each picked up a win as USF went 3-1 on opening weekend, with the Bulls losing 3-2 to No. 2 Florida on Sunday to fall short of Eriksen’s goal of 56-0.

“They were disappointed that they didn’t win that ballgame,” he said. “They fully expected to win that game and I couldn’t agree with them more. … You’ve got 56 games on the schedule, we expect to go 56-0. Now that we didn’t win a ball game, now we expect to be 55-1. You have to take that attitude and if you don’t, you’re in the wrong business.”

Eriksen and the Bulls will continue their journey to 55 wins as hosts of the USF Invitational this weekend. USF lines up against Drake on Friday, Wisconsin and Arkansas on Saturday and Georgia Southern on Sunday.