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Analyzing USF softball’s opening weekend

USF will face seven AP Poll ranked opponents this season, with the first being this weekend against UF. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

South Florida softball will kick off its season on Thursday at the USF-Rawlings Invitational with a long list of highly skilled opponents to face.

The Bulls will take on Michigan on NCAA softball opening day. They will then face Boston College and Boston University on Friday, Saint Joseph’s and Illinois State on Saturday and No. 5 Florida on Sunday.

The USF-Rawlings Invitational is only the beginning of the long and challenging season awaiting the Bulls, with six more ranked contenders plus Florida on the schedule.

As the season closes in, here is what to expect from USF softball’s adversaries this weekend.

USF vs. Michigan – Feb. 9

Michigan will be the first to put USF to the test during the four-day tournament at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

The Wolverines were a ranked contender last season and have since fallen to the receiving votes column, but that doesn’t discredit their talent.

Part of Michigan’s success is credited to fifth year outfielder Lexie Blair’s return to the Big Blue’s batting order. Blair is one of the returning leaders of the lineup, putting up a .338 batting average and 24 RBI in 2022.

Though the Wolverines show some strengths, they have also shown their struggles with the Bulls before. In 2022, South Florida carried a 4-1 dominant victory over Michigan during its opening weekend, and will seek to do it once again on Thursday.

USF vs. Boston College – Feb. 10

USF will play its first doubleheader of the season on Friday, starting off with Boston College at 2 p.m.

Boston College is bringing a stacked roster of accredited players to this weekend’s invitational, which could pose a threat to the green and gold.

Returning to the circle is fifth year right-handed pitcher Susannah Anderson, who put up a 2.83 ERA in her 2022 campaign in 141 innings pitched. She also racked up 96 strikeouts in 30 appearances.

Along with a talented starting pitcher is the Eagles’ power at the plate, with their offense hitting a collective .254 batting average last season. In that group is sophomore catcher Hannah Slike, who hit .305 last year with 21 RBI.

USF vs. Boston University – Feb. 10

Shortly after taking on Boston College, USF will face its second Boston team of the weekend at 4:30 p.m.

Currently ranked at No. 1 in the Patriot League preseason poll with eight first place votes is Boston University. BU made it to the Patriot League tournament finals in 2022 where they fell to Lehigh 4-1.

The Terriers now seek revenge, hoping for another winning season and a road that will lead them to more postseason accolades.

A big factor for the Bulls to take in consideration when looking at this team is the Terriers ability to dominate its opponents at a staggering rate. In 2022, Boston University’s bullpen outpitched its opponents with a 2.05 ERA and .305 batting average, while its foes recorded a 4.17 ERA and .219 average.

BU will not be an easy task for USF in its opening weekend and will certainly put some of the Bulls’ newer pieces to the test.

USF vs. Saint Joseph’s – Feb. 11

Saturday will mark South Florida’s second doubleheader of the weekend as the team takes on Saint Joseph’s at 4:30 p.m.

Typically, the Hawks tend to break even on their campaign and underperform in comparison to their opponents. In 2022, Saint Joseph’s recorded a 3.18 ERA and .247 batting average while its contenders put up a 2.88 ERA and .259 average.

With South Florida presenting yet another talented roster and proving itself against difficult opponents, the Hawks don’t remain at the top of the list of teams that the Bulls should stress about.

USF vs. Illinois State – Feb. 11

Illinois State appears to be one of South Florida’s easier matches for opening weekend, but that doesn’t mean the Bulls should let their guard down.

One of USF’s biggest challenges this season beyond its schedule difficulty is the weight of it. Six games in four days takes a lot of energy out of a team and can be the cause of frequent mistakes – especially if the Bulls are in game five out of six.

If the Bulls can rally through and come together, there should be another win in the column for USF after taking on Illinois State.

The Bulls also need to stay competitive as the Redbirds hit a .261 average in 2022.

USF vs. Florida – Feb. 12

For its last game of the invitational, South Florida will take on its first ranked opponent and frequent foe No. 5 Florida.

UF has had its name in every preseason ranking poll, and has been a dominant contender in collegiate softball for years. USF has not defeated UF since 2012, and it is hard to tell whether that will change this year.

Florida carries an overall batting average of .314, proving its power in the batter’s box. Along with an excellent offense, the Gators have one of the country’s more talented bullpens with fifth year right-handed pitcher Elizabeth Hightower leading the way.

Hightower executed a 2.43 ERA in 2022 with 167 innings pitched and 133 strikeouts.

In order for the Bulls to remain competitive against the Gators, USF must stay vigilant and not let the cursed ‘name game’ build up its nerves against the world-renowned program.