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Fountain a steadying influence for Bulls

When softball coach Ken Eriksen needed to reshuffle his defensive alignment last season due to injuries, it was unclear who would step into the role of catcher to relieve the injured Stormi Grzybek.

Centerfielder Janine Richardson got a chance and did well, but was more valuable elsewhere on the diamond. That’s when third baseman Laura Fountain, who hadn’t played catcher in a standout high school career or college, said she may be of use behind the plate.

“I told coach, ‘If you need it, I’ll do my best,'” Fountain said. “That’s pretty much what ended up happening. … It’s been working and I feel like if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Fountain immediately succeeded in her new role, quickly building relationships with the pitching staff and stabilizing a position that allowed for a better combination of infielders. The move also allowed Richardson to play shortstop and Kourtney Salvarola to move from shortstop to third base.

“If you think about what’s going on right now in professional sports with Jeremy Lin, (Fountain) was our Jeremy Lin last year,” Eriksen said, referring to the New York Knicks point guard who earned a starting role earlier this month and became an instant star. “She turned out to be the MVP of our team. When she got behind the plate, it was like, ‘Where did this kid come from?'”

Fountain started 43 games last season, was fourth on the team in RBIs and compiled a .968 fielding percentage.

This season, as a senior, Fountain has started five of USF’s seven games at catcher, her adopted position. Though she’s still listed as a utility on the roster, she is likely to be the Bulls’ starting backstop for the foreseeable future.

“I love it,” Fountain said. “I’m very happy to be ending my time here behind the plate.”

With USF’s potentially dominant pitching staff this season, the role of catcher is even more important than usual. Starting pitcher Lindsey Richardson, who is off to a 4-0 start this season, said that Fountain’s game control and individual relationship with each of the Bulls’ four pitchers has been impressive.

“I love having her behind the plate,” she said. “Last year … she went back there and she rocked it. I’m so comfortable with her back there. She talks all the time, she’s really peppy and happy and she’ll always keep you in the game. Even in tough situations, it’s nice to have her back there. If you mess up, she’s not going to say, ‘Oh, it’s OK,’ she’s going to hold you accountable. It’s nice to have that feedback. … She’s very professional and to the point.”

Fountain and the Bulls leave campus for the first time this season as they head to the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater to play in the NFCA Tournament. USF (6-1) will meet Illinois and Mississippi State on Friday at 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively, before playing Boston University and Illinois State on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., respectively.