All season, the USF softball team (48-11) has had a positive vibe: one of togetherness, unity and determination to fight till the finish. A team that is 11-2 in games decided by one run has shown a bond unlike any that has been seen at USF and is now two wins from advancing to the Womens College World Series for the first time in school history.
With two wins over Hofstra (41-13) in a three-game series, the Bulls can seal their first-ever trip to Oklahoma City for a chance at the national championship.
Coach Ken Eriksen said this team had a chance to be special from the start.
We knew there was a difference in this team right away because we knew that if we could win in the locker room, we could win on the field, he said. This may be the closest team Ive ever coached.
Erikens emphasis on the historic chemistry of this team holds even greater weight when it comes from an assistant coach of the U.S. Softball Womens National Team. He attributes the teams success to the leadership of his senior class.
Our senior class right now is really the engineers on this train and theyre doing a pretty good job of keeping the motor well-oiled, Eriksen said.
The Bulls will need both their togetherness and their senior leadership this weekend to advance to Oklahoma City. Their opponent, the Hofstra Pride, is on a 20-game winning streak and bounced back from an 0-9 start to a berth in the NCAA Super Regionals. Of course, USF has faced its fair share of talented teams. It is coming off a victory over the 5th-seeded Florida Gators in Gainesville.
I thought that coach Walton (of the Gators) did his best coaching this year, Eriksen said. And its the whole team. When you put on a University of Florida uniform, you can play.
USF will look to advance by doing what it does best: dominating in the pitching circle, led by sophomore Sara Nevins. She added another highlight to her resume when she held the Gators to three hits and no runs while striking out 12 in a pressure-packed, Gator-friendly stadium.
(Coach) had a lot of confidence in me, Nevins said. I just did what he said and tried to play calm.
Though Nevins composure is a huge advantage in big games, she and her teammates will have the comfort of a supportive home crowd, an asset that they did not have in their regional round run. Their performance in Gainesville, along with losses by both Florida State and UCLA, has allowed the Bulls to host the Super Regional round.
The best-of-three series against the Pride will begin Friday, with a 7 p.m. first pitch, with a free tailgate for students before the game. The series will wrap up Saturday 2:45 p.m. and game three, if necessary, at 5 p.m.