If the Bulls were intimidated by No. 15 Michigan on Wednesday, they didn’t show it.
Instead, the USF softball team proved its newly minted No. 23 ranking is deserved, outdueling the Wolverines 2-0 in front of 536 fans and improving to 11-2 on the season with its first win over a ranked opponent.
“It’s about us right now,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “(Our players are) coming in between innings and they’re not concerned about what the other team is doing. They’re concerned about making their adjustments at the plate and their adjustments defensively.”
USF could have lost control early, with starting pitcher Sara Nevins lacking sharpness out of the gates. Michigan leadoff hitter Bree Evans singled to start the game before the bases were loaded, courtesy of a walk and hit batter.
“When you watch the history of baseball or softball, first innings are crucial,” Eriksen said. “You can take the wind out of a team’s sails. You have the bases loaded with one out and a chance to put the game away … and it doesn’t get done.”
With the help of pitching coach Monica Triner, Nevins found her rhythm, striking out two batters in the inning to keep the Wolverines off the scoreboard. Michigan would only threaten once more, with Nevins pitching the complete game shutout. She allowed six hits and struck out eight to improve to 4-1 on the season.
“(The plan was) to either jam (the batters) or get the ball way off the plate,” Nevins said. “Don’t ever leave it on the corner and make sure you get it way out or way in.”
USF’s offense awakened in the third inning, with Ashli Goff – lowered to the ninth spot in the lineup to create offense – leading off the inning with a single. Two batters later, Kourtney Salvarola drove an RBI single through the infield to score Goff and give the Bulls the only run they’d need.
USF scored an insurance run in the following inning on an RBI single by Laura Fountain after a leadoff triple from Kenshyra Jackson.
With a two-run cushion to protect in the fifth inning, the Bulls’ defense helped Nevins keep Michigan off the scoreboard.
After a leadoff single by Lyndsay Doyle, who reached second base on a sacrifice bunt, a single to right field by Amanda Chidester could’ve meant trouble for USF.
Right fielder Gina Kafalas came up throwing to Fountain for a chaotic play at the plate. Doyle dove headfirst, but missed on her attempt to touch home plate, though umpire Tom Ulbrich signaled her safe. Fountain stuck with the play and tagged Doyle out before she could make another dive toward the plate, ending the inning.
With a win under its belt, USF now looks to the USF Under Armour Invitational at the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater. The Bulls will meet Boston College and Loyola Marymount at 2 p.m. and 4:15 p.m., respectively, Saturday before playing Harvard and Miami (Ohio) at noon and 2:15 p.m., respectively, Sunday.