The USF softball season started with a blast off the bat of freshman outfielder Ta’Coia Williams on Thursday, but the No. 23 Bulls couldn’t carry the fireworks through the rest of the weekend as they went 1-2 with walk-plagued losses to Florida and Michigan.
In two starts against the No. 3 Florida Gators and No. 4 Michigan Wolverines, Sara Nevins, USF senior pitcher and NCAA Player of the Year Watch List nominee, hit three batters and walked 12, which gave the opponents 15 extra base runners.
After a 3-2 loss to Michigan on Saturday, when Nevins struck out 10 Wolverines in 6 and 2/3 innings but walked eight and threw 152 pitches, USF coach Ken Eriksen said he takes responsibility for Nevins’ struggles.
“(I’m) not preparing her in the aggressive mode of pounding the strike zone,” he said. “We have to continue to reiterate that and not assume that our players know these things. Even though you’ve got seniors, you need to continue to reiterate that every day.”
But pitching wasn’t the only issue, Eriksen said, as a “passive” attitude crept into the Bulls’ approach all weekend.
“I feel I haven’t done my job the last two weeks to tell you the truth,” he said. “I don’t think I prepared our team aggressively enough. I think we were passive and maybe that’s a reflection of what we did as a coaching staff. Maybe we let them get away with some things, and all of a sudden there’s a passive mentality at the plate and in the field. I’m just going to take that (responsibility) on the coaching staff and specifically myself.”
Though USF run-ruled Bethune-Cookman 9-0 after senior shortstop Kourtney Salvarola’s walk-off grand slam in it’s second of two games Thursday, a couple hours prior, USF also had an early lead on Florida that it relinquished with a seven-run fourth inning by the Gators.
In the first inning, Williams belted a solo shot that hung in the air for what seemed like forever before landing at least 30 feet past the center field fence and giving the Bulls a 1-0 lead in her first career at-bat.
The Bulls out-hit the Gators 7-5 and left with a 10-3 loss when walks finally caught up to them in the fourth inning.
“When we give up five hits and they score 10 runs, then we’ve given up too many free passes,” Eriksen said. “We can’t catch the walks. They only had one hard-hit ball. That’s what happens when you put people on base.”
After heavy rain Friday evening forced USF to cancel games against Wisconsin and Illinois State, Eriksen said the passive mentality carried into Saturday’s game against Michigan, who coincidentally had just blew a late-inning lead to the Gators, but left with a win by the narrowest of margins over USF.
“We were up 1-0 against Florida and let them back in the ballgame,” Eriksen said. “We were up 2-1 against Michigan and we let them back in the ball game. We didn’t go after pop-ups well. We didn’t go after strikes well. We swung at a lot of junk.”
With a slate of five games scheduled for this weekend, Eriksen said he has to right the ship before USF’s lack of aggressiveness becomes a habit.
“I’m going to be in the office until 2 a.m. (Sunday) trying to figure out practice for Monday and a mental approach to what goes on,” he said. “Before you know it we’re 30 games into the season and if we continue to do what we did tonight, we’ll be 15-15.”
USF will host five teams at the softball stadium this weekend, including No. 2 Tennessee.