As the AAC conference season reaches its halfway point, USF sits in fourth place with three more series after dropping this weekend’s showdown with UCF 1-2.
The Bulls (30-13, 4-5) are behind their next opponents – Houston, UCF and Louisville, the latter dealing USF its first sweep in four years earlier this month.
But contrary to the sweep by Louisville, USF coach Ken Eriksen said he was pleased with the way his team competed against UCF, along with the preparation he saw in practice throughout the week.
“I’d rather coach in a weekend like this than the one against Louisville,” he said. “I thought our girls were demonstrating South Florida softball in respective energy and focus. It got down to (being) the team that played flawless in crucial situations was the team that ended in a good position on the scoreboard.”
In Sunday’s rubber game, UCF scored the first runs of the contest in the seventh inning with a 2-RBI double off the bat of outfielder Mariah Garcia.
USF senior ace Sara Nevins had gone 13 innings without allowing a run to the Knights in the series until that point.
USF threatened to tie UCF with its last chance in the bottom of the seventh after senior Kourtney Salvarola scored on a play at the plate, but freshman Ta’Coia Williams struck out and junior Veronica Gajownik grounded out to end the game.
Throughout the series, the Knights (30-13, 7-2) presented the Bulls with a duo of pitchers, Mackenzie Audas and Shelby Turnier, who have notched ERAs under 1.60 this season and limited USF to six runs in three games.
Unlike the Louisville series, when Eriksen was unhappy with the Bulls approach, he said he was impressed with the Knights’ pitching staff. But he’s looking for the Bulls to catch some breaks soon, and is excited to get back to practice this week.
“UCF’s pitching staff is pretty good,” he said. “As far as a hitting lull goes, I think we scored the most runs on them in a long time and had the most hits against them. We hit a lot of line drives at people yesterday. We’re just not getting the breaks and bounces our way right now.”
Eriksen said it’s important to have quality teams like Louisville, UCF and Houston on the schedule, while USF sits at 44 in RPI coming into the
weekend. The Bulls will have to get quality wins the rest of the way to help earn an at-large NCAA bid if they aren’t able to clinch an automatic tournament berth with a win in the AAC tournament.
“You’ve got to maintain good competition and thank goodness UCF has a high RPI, Houston has a high RPI, we beat some teams earlier in the year that are high RPI,” he said. “We’re not necessarily going to worry about the RPI stuff. We’re going to worry about Houston (this week). The chips will fall where they fall.”
While an NCAA tournament selection is out of the Bulls’ hands in about a month’s time, USF hopes to catch some breaks against conference-leading Houston next weekend and gain some ground in the standings.
“We’re competing,” Eriksen said. “If we were laying down I’d be a little worried. We’re just not getting that bounce right now. Tennessee, Michigan, last week against Louisville, we didn’t get the bounces our way. We’ve got to create our own luck, and luck is a residue of design. We’ll continue to work and hopefully design a great game plan.”
In USF’s lone win of the series, Nevins tossed her third no-hitter of the season and seventh of her career in USF’s Game 1 4-0 win Saturday. In the process, the left-hander, who topped 75 on the radar gun Saturday, surpassed the 1,000 strikeout.
Already USF’s career strikeout leader, Nevins became the 80th NCAA pitcher to accomplish the 1,000 milestone, and will look to add more against the high-scoring Houston Cougars next weekend in Texas.