In the hyper-competitive atmosphere of the Women’s College World Series, momentum can be a fickle friend, often bouncing between teams at the speed of one misplaced pitch. The USF softball team learned that lesson the hard way, as an early 1-0 lead did not translate to a win, in its College World Series opening 5-1 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma on Thursday.
“You have to play flawless softball to move into the winner’s bracket,” USF head coach Ken Eriksen said. “The nice opportunity that we have is to take tomorrow, do some things to get better and come out and play whoever we have to play Saturday.”
Despite a strong start from sophomore Sara Nevins, the Bulls were unable to begin the double elimination round on the right side of the bracket. After three no hit innings, Nevins was unable to get through the vaunted Sooner lineup, which included USA Softball Player of the Year, pitcher Keilani Ricketts.
The Bulls offense struggled against Ricketts, who only allowed 3 hits and ended with 11 strikeouts. With the setback, the Bulls are a loss away from packing their bags for good.
It looked like the Bulls had taken the momentum when they grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth on an RBI single from shortstop Kourtney Salvarola. The Sooners reversed the fortunes in the next half inning, when Lauren Chamberlain rocked a home run to dead center, giving them a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish.
“I was struggling a little bit in my first at bat on just trying catching up to her speed,” said Chamberlain of Nevins. “But tried to keep the same approach of just getting a good pitch and putting a good swing on it. So second time around, I didn’t want to get cheated.”
Head coach Ken Eriksen threw everything he could at the Sooners, bringing in all three of USF’s pitchers, including the postseason debut for freshman Sam Griener. Griener’s debut did not start off strong, however, as she gave up back to back walks, the second with the bases loaded, to bring in another run in a productive sixth inning for Oklahoma, when three runs crossed the plate, icing the game.
“We had a strategy for every pitcher that they were going to bring out,” Gasso said. “And I think it’s a very effective strategy for them because it’s tough to really get settled on one pitcher.”
After losing their opener, the Bulls will have to repeat their performance of the Super Regionals, when they bounced back from an opening loss to win the final two games of the series, in order to advance in the Women’s College World Series. They will match up on Saturday at noon against the LSU Tigers, the only other unseeded team in the bracket.
The relationship between the teams does not end there, however, as the Tigers are the former team of star third baseman Jessica Mouse, who solidified the USF defense as a transfer student this season. Mouse will be facing her former team for the first time since transferring.
“That’s the great part about this tournament is that you go back and you take a look at what do you need to do better against LSU…to be able to continue on to Saturday night,” Eriksen said. “We’ve done that all year long and I expect us to do the same thing. We can now tweak our machine to get a little bit better.”