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USF keeps streak alive over Spring Break

The USF softball team has won 15 games in a row, two on Saturday, sinceMarch 1 and are four wins shy of tying the school record for consecutive wins, which was setduring last years historic Womens College World Series run.

While pitching and defense have tightened up, theres no doubt that breaking out off an early season offensive drought has been the key to the Bulls success.

After scoring just 2.19 runs per game in the first 16 games, USF has more than doubled itsoffensive production in the15-game winning streak, with an average of 5.27 runs per game.

Junior shortstop Kourtney Salvarola said shes been a part of good offenses in her career as a Bull, but the team never clicked as consistently well.

Its not just one through five. Its one through nine in the batting order, she said. And even girls coming off the bench like (sophomore) Sam Greiner, who hit a bomb in her first start, I think that shows how good we can potentially be.

That potential shined for the first time in a 3-1 home loss to theNo. 4 Florida Gators on Feb. 27, and Bulls have been a different team since that night, in front of a sold-out crowd.

I dont want to jinx myself. Ill be able to speak about that more in more detail at the end of the season, coach Ken Eriksen said. But I do know that it was a good
springboard for us.

USFs power bats came alive against Florida, as they hitseveral bullets that went straight intoGator gloves.

The Bulls havent looked back since, and have now hit 22 home runs in the last 17 games, after just one in the 14 games prior to the Florida contest.

Eriksen finally found a lineup that works.

The combination of junior Stephanie Medina, senior Kenshyra Jackson, Salvarola andfreshman Lee Ann Spivey battingthree through six in the Bullsbatting order is responsible for17 of the 22 home runs and most of the runs batted in.

At the start of the season,Eriksen said he may be able to decrease the number of sacrifice bunts, and score more runs with the middle of his lineup this year.

I think a big part of it was getting out of their own heads, Eriksen said. We were hitting bullets right at people and our hitters were going 0-for-3 or 0-for-4, and we started thinking too much instead of sticking with the basics of hitting.

The power surge in the middle of the batting order has molded the team into a well-rounded offensive unit.

The speed and bat work ofsophomore DAnna Devinebatting first, junior Ashli Goffbatting second and junior Courtney Goff batting ninth, or The Little Rats, as Eriksen calls them, keepdefenders on their toes.

Each member of the trio can lay down a perfect bunt, slap a soft shot over the third basemans head or squeeze out an infield hit on a ground ball.

The diversity of the Bulls offense requires the opponent to defend every foot of the field, an element that hasnt been prominent in several years, but is now the teams identity.

We have to be diversified as an offense, Eriksen said. Its been a long time since everybody in the lineup is hitting, but when we face a tough pitcher we have to get that ball on the ground with a bunt.

Sometimes teams fall in love with the home run, and it gets to the point where they expect it to happen, but The Little Rats, and even the mentality of the teams power hitters, should keep the Bulls in good shape.

Id rather win games with base hits, theyre much more dependable Spivey, who leads the team with 22 RBI, said

Not to be outdone, the Bulls have pitched six consecutiveshutouts, including three by junior Sara Nevins and two by senior Lindsey Richardson.

Nevins earned run average has dropped below 1.00 for the first time since the beginning of the season, and Richardson is sitting at 1.29.

On any given day, eachmember of the Bulls two-headed monster can pitch with the best in the nation, a luxury that has been the most consistent component of the Bulls success in the past season and a half.

As Big East conference play begins Saturday at home againstRutgers, Richardson said the Bulls have come together as a team, and are where they need to be.

Coming into conference play, everyone pays attention to what the other teams have done, she said. I know Id rather play a team on a losing streak than a winning streak, so I think well do well.

USF has five home games this week, starting with Dartmouth and Cornell on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, and ending with a three-game series against Rutgers on Saturday and Sunday.

Still, with the opportunity to break the win streak record with five wins in five games this week, the Bulls are focused on getting better each day.

We gotta get better tomorrow.We cant get comfortable, Eriksen said, Its a cruel game. Once you get comfortable, it will come and bite you on the butt.