Bulls ‘unhinged’ in win streak


At Sunday night’s 8-2 win over Maine, Bulls’ outfielder Juli Weber perched over the dugout railing in between pitches during Ta’coia Williams’ at-bat.

“You got this ‘Chip Ta’coia’,” she shouted, using a new nickname for the freshman power hitter — a twist on the “Chips Ahoy!” cookie brand.

Weber continued to duck down and pop up between each pitch, as teammates and fans laughed.

It took a few weeks, but USF (14-5), in the midst of a 10-1 run and a seven-game winning streak, has found its identity according to coach Ken Eriksen — and it’s quite a change from his recent squads.

“We were loose in the past, but we’re almost becoming unhinged,” Eriksen said. “That’s how loose we are right now. It’s kind of like religion. I really don’t care what you believe, just
believe it.”

Since the USF softball stadium opened in 2011, countless opponents used personalized chants, often times louder than USF’s crowd noise. But for the first time in senior Kourtney Salvarola’s career, USF is using collective chants, put into motion by freshmen Weber and Williams.

“We’ve been trying to get the dugout energized and fun,” Salvarola said. “They came up with a bunch of these chants, claps, snaps and woohoo’s.”

At this time last season, USF was 9-10, and Eriksen said the team wasn’t having fun playing. Though the Bulls won the Big East Championship a couple months later, they seemed to be putting a lot of pressure on themselves.

“I think this group is very different than last year,” Salvarola said. “The group is a bunch of crazy, fun personalities. Everyone’s here to play ball but also have a good time. I think that’s one thing that’s helping us be successful.”

Williams’ voice could be heard loud and clear every time she reached first base, as she rooted on teammates in their at-bats. Salvarola said it’s nice having her on the team, but not just for her talent.

“She’s something else,” Salvarola said. “She’s a force to be reckoned with on and off the field. She’s a big part of our success, not only because of her talent, but because she’s so loud and supportive of everyone else.”

Though Eriksen’s teams have never been known for loud, organized cheering at games, he wasn’t opposed to the changes.

“You’ve got to evolve,” he said. “I never think that there’s a staunch way to do things. I’ve talked about trying to find the identity of your team. I think we’re seeing a different identity this year than in the past. The way the record is right now and the way they’re doing things in the dugout… go at it. As long their focus is on what they’re supposed to be doing, and it is. It’s not taking away from what we’re doing.”

As for the on-field product, every player on the roster has played in a game and the team batting average is .315 compared to an opponents’ combined batting average of .164.

Williams, Salvarola and sophomore catcher Lee Ann Spivey are tied for the team lead in home runs with four, and Eriksen said players are focused in each inning, but execution can still be better.

“We have a lot of people getting at-bats and playing time right now,” he said. “We’re dispersing responsibilities and they’re (being) accountable to each other.”

Whether the team chants contributed to recent success, or the hot streak will continue, remains to be seen. However, the two have gone hand-in-hand lately.

“It’s kind of like those bracelets the players wear, and you ask the trainers if those magnetic bracelets really work, and they say ‘if they think it does, then it does,’” Eriksen said. “Our team is in a good place mentally. If it works, it works. I’m all for it. I’m probably their biggest fans and they don’t even know it.”

USF plays a doubleheader today against Maine at 2:30 p.m. and Western Michigan at
4:30 p.m.