Bulls fall in AAC championship game, earn NCAA tournament bid

Host and top-seed USF found itself in familiar territory at the end of the AAC tournament on Saturday – though it took some dramatics to get there.

USF dropped the championship game 4-1 to a dominating performance by Tulsa pitcher Emily Watson on Saturday. Watson allowed no earned runs on three hits and struck out eight batters against USF en route to the Golden Hurricane’s third straight AAC tournament championship.

Watson’s performance over the weekend earned her the tournament’s MVP award. Watson pitched complete games in all three games for the Golden Hurricane during the tournament, throwing 21 innings and allowing only one earned run, which came against Houston on Friday.

Despite the loss in the conference championship game, the Bulls’ 38-21 overall record was good enough to earn an at-large bid to NCAA regionals. The trip marks the 13th time in program history that USF will head to the NCAA tournament.

USF will be playing in the Gainesville regional, opening play Friday against Ohio State. The regionals other two teams are No. 2 Florida and Bethune-Cookman. The regional will be double elimination.

“What a great opportunity for us and our fans to head to Gainesville for the NCAA tournament,” coach Ken Eriksen said. “To have the opportunity early in the tournament to face quality teams like Ohio State, Bethune-Cookman and No. 2 Florida is fantastic. We can’t wait to get to work at practice this week.”

Saturday’s AAC tournament championship game was USF’s second in three years. Before the Bulls reached the game, however, they produced walk-off wins against No. 8 seed UConn on Thursday and No. 5 seed Memphis on Friday.

USF opened the scoring in the bottom of the sixth inning with an RBI by junior Macy Cook that drove in senior Astin Donovan. The Bulls had UConn down to its final out in the ensuing top of the seventh, but the Huskies managed to tie the game up thanks to an error by USF catcher Cook.

The Bulls responded by putting a runner in scoring position in every following inning except the ninth, but were unable to score until the 12th inning.

In the 12th inning, senior Lauren Evans drove home the game winning run with a base hit toward the right side of the infield. The ball bounced right as UConn second baseman Ryne Nakama attempted to field it, which allowed pinch runner JoJo McGill to score from second.

The dramatics continued the next day for the Bulls, as they faced a Memphis team which eliminated UCF the day before.

USF walked off the second night in a row on an RBI single by junior Samantha Worrell in the bottom of the seventh inning, sending the Bulls to the championship game against No. 6 seed Tulsa — the eventual tournament champions.

Evans, Cook and junior Lindsey Devitt represented USF on the All-Tournament team. The only team with more representatives than USF was Tulsa, which had four.

The Bulls and Buckeyes open play in the regional Friday at 5 p.m. The game is set to be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.