The USF softball team will travel to Gainesville tonight for a 6 p.m. game and the Bulls’ second game against the No. 3 Florida Gators this season.
This time around, both teams are on winning streaks.
Since the Bulls’ 3-1 loss to the Gators on Feb. 27 at the USF softball stadium, the Bulls have only lost two games. One against Kentucky on March 1 and the other against Rutgers on March 23.
The Gators (38-4) are coming off a loss to Mississippi State on Sunday, their third loss since playing USF.
Though the Gators and Bulls (32-11, 10-1) have played each other for several years now, coach Ken Eriksen said he doesn’t see it as a rivalry.
“I don’t get caught up in that,” he said. “If I did, I’d probably have more gray hair.”
It may not be a rivalry to Eriksen, but this game is more than just a game against the No. 3 team in the nation, which happens to be an in-state opponent.
“We’re not just going up there to try to win a ball game,” he said. “We’re hoping to get comfortable in the con- fines of that stadium, knowing that every year there’s going to be a regional or super-regional in Gainesville in the postseason.”
Last year, the Gainesville regional was the third-to-last stop on the road to the Women’s College World
Series. But USF had five seniors
who played nearly every game for the Bulls and proved to be comfortable in Gainesville last year.
The Bulls took two out of the last three games against the Gators in 2012 and both wins were in Gainesville.
But this season, like every season, is different.
The 2013 Bulls have four freshmen that are key contributors — Monica San- tos, Erica Nunn, Morgan Litch- field and Lee Ann Spivey, who haven’t had experience in a packed stadium on the road.
“It’s probably going to be the most hostile environment we’ve been in this year,” Eriksen said.
With 25 wins in the last 26 games, the Bulls are just outside of the NFCA Top 25 rankings, and a win in Gainesville could propel them into the Top 25 for the first time since February.
But none of the wins have come against ranked opponents and the Bulls are 1-4 against Top 25 opponents this season.
There’s no doubt that the Bulls have responded with their best play of the year since the Feb. 27 loss to the Gators.
That night, the Bulls’ offense finally came alive after a four week slump, and put a charge into Gator pitching.
They haven’t looked back since, scoring an average of more than five runs per game.
But Florida has a deep lineup, packed with proven run producers.
Seven Gators have knocked in 20 runs or more this season, led by sophomore slugger Lauren Haeger, who has belted 12 home runs and driven in 44 runs.
By comparison, the Bulls have relied on run production from four power hitters with 23 RBI or better.
The foursome responsible for 31 of the Bulls’ 38 home runs includes senior Kenshyra Jackson, freshman Lee Ann Spivey and juniors Kourtney Salvarola and Stephanie Medina.
The equalizer to the vaunted Florida lineup could be the Bulls’ pitching staff.
USF currently ranks second in the nation with a 1.23 team earned run average, led by the marks of senior Lindsey Richardson (.97) and junior Sara Nevins (1.04), which are second and eighth respectively in the NCAA individual rankings.