Bulls start strong in invitational, finish with heartbreaking doubleheader

Redshirt freshman pitcher Payton Dixon had a strong first outing by allowing just one unearned run over six innings and striking out six, leading the Bulls to a win on opening day. ORACLE PHOTO/CARLEIGH BENEDICT

Followed by a strong opening game against Michigan, USF softball suffered two heartbreaking losses to cap off their first doubleheader of the season. 

The Bulls (1-2) used entirely different approaches for each game, resulting in three differing outcomes.

USF softball scored a walkoff 2-1 victory over Michigan (1-1) in extra innings on NCAA DI softball opening day. 

The low scoring affair came after an intense pitching duel between redshirt freshman Payton Dixon and Wolverine sophomore ace Lauren Derkowski. Dixon recorded six strikeouts in her outing while Derkowski put up nine. 

Despite Dixon’s inexperience, the pitcher was able to dominate against a powerful program in her first collegiate outing. 

It may have seen like she kept her cool, but Dixon said there were other things racing through her mind.

“I was a little nervous. Once I got out there I was fine. I mellowed out, but before the game I was definitely nervous,” Dixon said. 

As for South Florida’s offense, it was difficult for the Bulls’ bats to get going until the Wolverines put a run on the board in the top of the sixth inning. As the inning flipped, USF answered with a run to tie the game 1-1 on a fielder’s choice. 

Both Michigan and USF remained tied up until the bottom of the eighth, where redshirt sophomore Hallie Bryant found an opportunity to reach home on a wild pitch, allowing the Bulls to walk off in their first win. 

Coach Ken Eriksen was proud of his team for remaining resilient in such a tight matchup, especially against a team like the Wolverines. 

“I’m so proud of them. Maybe teams in the past would have gone, ‘Holy smokes. We just beat Michigan on opening day, just knocked out [a] top 20 team opening day.’ These guys are like, ‘Okay, who’s next?’ So they’ve got a good mentality,” Eriksen said. 

Following their strong outing with Michigan, the Bulls dropped the first game of the doubleheader on Friday after a 4-2 loss against Boston College (2-0). The Bulls entered the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead, but a three-run blast by senior utility Abigail Knight paved the way for Boston College team to take the lead and ultimately the victory.  

South Florida’s offense came in hot right out of the gate, as sophomore catcher Emma Humplik put the team on the board with an RBI single in the bottom of the first inning after redshirt senior outfielder Meghan Sheehan put herself into scoring position with a stolen base.

Senior pitcher Antoinette Hill made her first start of the season tossing 2.1 innings. She allowed two hits, striking out one and allowing one unearned run. Sophomore pitcher Lexie Kopko threw 1.2 innings in which she gave up three hits and three earned runs, including the home run that would ultimately cost the Bulls the game.

The game featured a couple of solid defensive plays like junior infielder Megan Pierro’s diving catch in the top of the sixth inning, but three total errors saw one of them amount to an unearned run against Hill.

However, there was little improvement on the offensive side of things from the previous game, as the Bulls only managed to tally five hits and two runs.

Eriksen acknowledged the loss but said he is relying on the perseverance of his team to turn things around.

“It was a tough loss, for sure,” he said. “It’s always tough to lose a game in the final inning. Hopefully our hitters will feel more comfortable tomorrow than they have been in the last three days.”

After their heartbreak loss to the Eagles, the Bulls were shutout by the Terriers (3-0) 8-0.

Senior pitcher Gabriella Nori got off to a rough start of the season, surrendering six runs on seven hits, a base on balls and two hit by pitches, while also striking out four through 3.2 innings of work. Freshman pitcher Morgan Grubb tossed two innings, allowing two runs on two hits and a hit by pitch.

It was a scoreless game until the third inning, when junior infielder Kayla Roncin hit a solo shot to put the Terriers up 1-0. Nori managed to retire the next three batters to escape the inning with only one run scored, but things went downhill from there. After loading the bases, a hit by pitch and a base-clearing triple by senior infielder Caitlin Coker put the game out of reach, leading to a 6-0 lead for Boston University.

Eriksen recognized the struggles on both sides of the ball.

“It’s a big difference in two days,” he said. “You play flawless softball on a Thursday night, then come out and move the field a little bit on Friday. We got to see a lot of players the last three days, and you got to experience the bad to then experience the good.”

Offensive struggles were a factor in the loss, as the team failed to score a run for the first time in the season.

“We didn’t hit. We only really played two poor innings but in our game, you can’t allow cricket numbers to get up on the board,” Eriksen said. “If you give up one run you’re all right, but when you start giving up five or six an inning it’s tough to come back.”

The Bulls will look to wake up the bats and turn things around Saturday as they face the Saint Joseph’s Hawks and the Illinois State Redbirds in a doubleheader.