After playing the first two weekends of the 2014 season in the friendly confines of the USF Softball Stadium, the Bulls (4-4) have a short road trip to Clearwater for the NFCA Lead-Off Classic at the Eddie C. Moore Complex this Friday through Sunday.
Following eight games in which USF coach Ken Eriksen said the team “could make it easier” on itself with better in-game execution, the Bulls have worked on “situational plays more than anything else” in practice.
“I’ve been excited with their work ethic and mentality,” he said.
When Eriksen arrived at practice, pitcher Sam Greiner had been on the field throwing for at least 15 minutes. The junior right-hander has struggled with a 9.55 ERA in 3 2/3 innings, and was one of many players getting extra work in before practice officially started – something Eriksen commended.
While Greiner has gotten off to a rough start, sophomore left-hander Erica Nunn boasts a .78 ERA in 18 innings with 26 strikeouts and four walks. So far, Nunn has better numbers in the circle than senior Sara Nevins’ ERA of 2.00, 39 strikeouts and 18 walks.
One might think Nunn is the Bulls’ No. 2 starter, and Nevins is still the No. 1 option with her career accolades – such as a 1.30 ERA in 627 innings coming into the season, and a spot on the 2013 USA Softball Women’s National Team – but Eriksen said Nunn might be more than on Nevins’ heels at this point.
“I don’t know if (Nunn) has asserted herself as the No. 1,” he said. “She’s in that type of position right now. She’s somebody you can count on, who’s given us three great quality starts so far. Right now she’s the most consistent pitcher we’ve got.”
Nunn, Nevins and the Bulls are scheduled for five opponents this weekend, three of which they played in the same tournament last season, when they lost all five games and failed to score in four of the five contests.
USF will start off the action at 2:30 p.m. Friday against Illinois State (3-6), who won last year’s game 7-0, and Eriksen said the Cardinals are going to be a challenge once again.
“Illinois State is a real good team,” he said. “I figure if I’m going to worry about anybody it’s Illinois State. They have weapons offensively – really good pitching. We’ve got to play right right away. (It’s the) first game of the tournament.”
Illinois State, like USF, appears to have a difficult schedule to start the year. Of the Cardinals’ six losses, five were to top 15 opponents. The losses include scores of 3-2 to No. 1 Florida, 7-1 to No. 5 Michigan, 4-2 to No. 4 Arizona State, 11-6 to No. 11 Oklahoma and 9-1 to No. 2 Washington.
After Illinois State, USF plays Hofstra, the team it eliminated in Super Regionals of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The Flying Dutchwomen have yet to play a game this season, but won 46 last season and went to NCAA Regionals.
USF takes on James Madison (5-5), which went 42-17 last season and No. 22 Louisiana-Lafayette (6-3-1), which lost in NCAA Super Regionals to Michigan last season with a 47-15 record, on Saturday.
The tournament will end with a game against College of Charleston (3-4) on Sunday at 11 a.m.