USF’s season ended after a 3-2 loss to Ohio State in the NCAA Gainesville Regional on Saturday, but the season wasn’t a total loss.
To coach Ken Eriksen, the success of the team off the field is almost as important as its success on it.
“For us to compete like we did, get to regionals, and play some close ball games really says a lot about the diversity of the classes that we had,” Eriksen said. “The senior class themselves did a phenomenal job in being very intricate in the successes that the team had over the last four to five weeks.”
The seniors not only led the team on the field, but in the classroom as well with a 100 percent graduation rate.
Eriksen made it clear in past seasons that a high graduation rate is important to him as he has consistently produced classes of graduate athletes. His 7 seniors this year were no different.
“I’m very proud because being a student athlete is the most difficult thing that someone can do in their life,” Eriksen said. “You hope to prepare people for real life because it’s not just about the game.”
As a former USF baseball player himself, Eriksen said he knows how difficult it is to balance life on the field and in the classroom.
“Having to study every day, go to class every day, get up early for practice and then perform at a high level for a whole year and times that by four years — you’ve accomplished a lot,” Eriksen said. “If you take care of business in the classroom, it’s easy to play ball and for that to happen in the competitive nature that we play in says a lot about those seniors.”
USF played a challenging schedule this season. Competing against ranked opponents Tennessee, Florida and Oklahoma State, put them to the test all year. The Bulls were able to play against top-ranked talent on several occasions.
The seniors led the team in the final stretch of the regular season in hopes of going far into the postseason.
Lauren Evans hit a walk-off single in the 12th inning to keep USF’s AAC tournament hopes alive and Astin Donovan led the team in hits.Cassidy Boyle went 3-for-3 in the Bulls’ win over Bethune-Cookman and Amber Atkinson recorded a run in each game of the NCAA Regional. Each of these players were seniors.
“If you think about where we were after 19 games this year, we could have been in the dumper,” Eriksen said. “But there’s no clock in this game.”
USF went on to win the regular season championship and reached the championship game of their conference tournament against Tulsa.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” Eriksen said. “I think that this was the best team that has done that in a really long time.”
After losing to Tulsa in the championship game of the AAC tournament on May 12, USF traveled to the Gainesville Regional six days later. Just 30 minutes after a sudden death win against Bethune-Cookman, the Bulls would go on to face Ohio State in an elimination game. USF fell 3-2, ending their season Saturday.
According to Eriksen, softball goes beyond the scoreboard and into the stands.
“We had such a great following and the support we had from the community was outstanding,” Eriksen said. “That stadium is a great place to watch a ball game.”
After a tremendous season from a special team, Eriksen left the season saying one thing.
“100 percent graduation, 100 percent dedication and 100 percent green and gold,” Eriksen said.