Looking back at highs and lows of 2013

After being eliminated in NCAA Regional play by No. 2 Florida on May 19, Bulls fans had to say goodbye to four seniors, including pitcher and team leader Lindsey Richardson and power-hitting third baseman Kenshyra Jackson.

It was a bittersweet ending to their careers, as the Bulls weren’t able to duplicate the magic of the 2012 postseason, which brought USF its first ever Women’s College World Series appearance.

Yet the Bulls still had a successful season. The Oracle looks at some of the year’s highlights.

• The team won its first Big East championship in the conference’s final year,
shutting out offensive power No. 11 Louisville in the semifinals and Notre Dame in a 10-inning pitcher’s duel.

USF won 37 of its last 41 games before Regionals to surge back into the national rankings and then secure a NCAA Tournament bid with the win over Notre Dame.The Big East tournament featured more than 22 innings of shutout pitching by junior Sara Nevins

• Richardson, who pitched at least 80 innings in all four years of her career, and Nevins each had more than
200 strikeouts this season which marked the first time two USF pitchers had more than 200 strikeouts in one
season.The two had earned run averages of 1.09 and 1.20, which helped place USF in the five lowest team ERAs in the nation for the second year in a row.

• Offensively, the Bulls displayed newfound power as they hit 44 home runs, compared to just 27 in 2012.

The power surge was led by junior Kourtney Salvarola, who blasted 13 homers and was the first USF player in school
history to hit three home runs in one game.

From March until mid-April, USF averaged at least one home run per game and between five and six runs per game.

Unfortunately for USF, not all was positive:

• New expectations were placed on the Bulls as ESPN and the NFCA gave USF
preseason rankings of 10 and 12, respectively, after the 2012 World Series appearance, but the Bulls were unable to match these expectations.

Before the season started, veterans such as Richardson hoped for a season that would take them once more to the World Series and that feeling of stepping off the plane in Oklahoma.

• The biggest negative the Bulls encountered in 2013 was a rough first month of the
season, which the team deemed a “storming phase,” while coach Ken Eriksen acknowledged the team had a target on its back following the World Series and received every opponent’s best effort.

After beating ranked Michigan to start the season, the storm hit.

With losses against unranked opponents FAU, N.C. State, Southern Illinois, James Madison, Cal-Davis, Illinois State, and against ranked teams like Tennessee, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida and Kentucky, the Bulls all but guaranteed themselves they wouldn’t make it back to the top 16 and be able to host a Regional. Bad luck and close calls, along with base running and defensive play that was
uncharacteristic of an Eriksen-coached team dragged the Bulls to a 6-10 record and out of the national rankings and spotlight.

• Offense was a negative for the first month of the season, and it dropped off at the end of the season as well.

USF scored an average of just 2.07 runs in its last 15 games, but the drought was masked by dominant pitching and sound defense until the high-powered Gators proved to be too much. USF returns every key contributor next season except Richardson and Jackson, so the Bulls might be ranked in the preseason again, potentially in the 20 to 25 range where they hovered towards the end of this season.

• Within the newly formed American Athletic Conference, where only Louisville has experienced significant success in recent years, USF does not have the strength of a schedule next season that the SEC, Pac-12 or even the Big Ten and Big 12 have to maintain a Top 16 ranking. A conference tournament win would be a must for the Bulls to enter the NCAA Tournament.

But with so much returning talent and one of the best pitchers in the country in Nevins, the Bulls can set themselves up for a better fate, instead of being thrown into the fire during the first week of the NCAA tournament.