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USF potential for hosting NCAA Tournament games growing

With the USF softball team enjoying its best-ever season, the pressure on every game is mounting as the Bulls jockey for postseason positioning.

USF, which moved up to No. 16 in the country Tuesday, may be in contention for hosting NCAA Tournament games for the first time.

Coach Ken Eriksen said before the season that he felt the Bulls needed to win 40 games to be considered a tournament team by the NCAA, but with the Bulls (36-5, 9-0) rapidly approaching that number, hosting is a possibility.

The opening weekend of the 64-team tournament, the “Regionals” round, will be hosted at 16 sites across the country. Each Regional will have a four-team double-elimination tournament. The winner advances to one of eight “Super Regional” sites for a best-of-three series, the winner of which will advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

The Bulls face stiff competition from in-state powers No. 22 Florida State and No. 4 Florida for hosting rights, as it’s unlikely all three will be chosen due to their close proximity. Eriksen said he feels the right to host may come down to the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) poll, where USF (18) is below both FSU (15) and Florida (5).

USF has submitted an application to host both the Regional and Super Regional rounds.

“I think what you have to look at in that host-a-Regional deal is not just the record, but it’s the RPI combination with who in your region did you play and who did you beat,” he said. “And then there’s the aspect of (this stadium). It’s a pretty nice place we’ve got here.”

USF beat FSU 2-1 at the USF Softball Stadium on March 18. The Bulls and Gators split the season series, with USF losing 3-2 in extra innings at home Feb. 12 and winning 4-1 in Gainesville on March 28.

With the team riding a 16-game winning streak, Eriksen said he has given control to the players.

“I’m just holding the rudder,” he said. “They’re rowing like crazy. I told the whole team, ‘Look, gang, this is your team. I’ll hold the rudder, you’ll row and when you’re not rowing fast enough, I’ll let you know.’ They’re doing really well right now. I’m just trying to stay out of the way.”

USF returns to the field today for a Big East doubleheader against Providence (13-21, 4-4) with another weapon available in junior pitcher Lindsey Richardson.

Richardson has been out with shoulder tightness and has only pitched 39.2 innings this season, but she is healthy and available again, lightening the workload of Sara Nevins and Sam Greiner. Richardson is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA.

First pitch is set for 1 p.m., with both games of the doubleheader broadcast live on Bright House Sports Network.