Weeks before the softball season commenced, Erica Nunn sat in her coach’s office petitioning for a spot in the batting order. With little resistance, coach Ken Eriksen gave her a shot, knowing very well what she was capable of.
This was a much different conversation than the two had had two years prior.
“She came to me after her sophomore year telling me she didn’t want to hit,” Eriksen said. “I was like, ‘What the heck was that about? You’re one heck of a hitter.’”
Eriksen said it was one of the key reasons he recruited the North-Carolina native.
Pitchers who’ve had the ability to pound home strikes while also packing the power to get extra base hits have been a staple on Eriksen’s rosters — from Monica “Big Mo” Triner (723 strikeouts, 20 home runs) in the 90s to Karla Claudio (114 strikeouts, 6 home runs) the last two seasons.
Since regaining a spot in the lineup on occasion, Nunn has proved her worth. The senior has provided a spark for the Bulls’ offense in the first month of play, batting .429 with four RBIs in 21 at-bats.
The stark contrast between the .093 average she posted in 54 at-bats in her first two seasons and her current average was a matter of simply extinguishing the strain she put on herself to produce hits.
“My freshman year, I came in and put so much pressure on myself,” Nunn said. “Now, it’s just, ‘Go up there and hit the ball.’
“When I got to college, it was a whole different ball game, and now I’ve finally grown up and, like I said, (taken) the pressure off.”
In the third inning of last week’s 9-4 win over Jacksonville, Nunn blasted a double up the gap in center field, scoring sophomore Lauren Evans from first.
Two innings later, Nunn followed up with single up the first base line to again bring Evans home, before entering the circle in the seventh to close out the game.
Her versatility was an invaluable trait that Eriksen saw early on.
“She was great hitter in high school and travel ball,” Eriksen said. “One of the better ones I’ve seen”
Despite playing four years in high school with accolades, such as being selected an ESPN All-American, piling up, the road leading up to her success started in a much different manner.
Nunn started in the sport tucked away in left field — the position she said they put the kids that “aren’t really that good.”
In the early years, her repertoire consisted exclusively of bunts. It wasn’t until she was about 11-years-old — after years of hitting lessons — that she started to develop the power seen today.
“She’s done such a great job at evolving as a player,” senior catcher Lee Ann Spivey said of her teammate. “She’s just relaxing and having confidence, that’s all it really takes to be good at softball.”
Spivey, who sits 10 home runs shy of the program’s all-time record, knows what it takes to become a good hitter and said Nunn has everything it takes on both sides of the diamond.
“Your pitchers are already doing so much for the team,” Spivey said. “So when they can come back out, they are willing to work hard on both angles — understanding what it’s like to be a hitter and what it’s like to be in the field— it’s a good opportunity for them to step up as a leader.”
Nunn adds another dimension to an already dynamic set of hitters for USF, which tallied six or more runs in each of its five games this past weekend.
The added strength is something Eriksen expects to pose problems for opposing pitchers.
“If she can swing it the way she’s doing, she gives us someone behind Spivey,” he said. “Then if you put (Mia) Fung behind her and then Sammy Worrell, you get a little bit of a Murderer’s Row there.
“And being a power-hitting lefty, that really helps out. They can’t pitch around us.”
With only 16 games played this season, Eriksen plans to keep plugging her in lineups. With her production so far, it’s hard to argue.
“There’s a big difference between 18-years-old and 22-years-old,” Eriksen said. “You’re a bit more confident in yourself and you realize that you can do these type of things.
“It’s player development and maturation and she’s really one that you can see her personal game come into fruition.”