USF claims first victory since opening weekend

USF triumphed after seeing a string of losses from multiple ranked teams. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Snapping a five game losing streak, South Florida softball found 3-0 and 3-1 victories over FGCU in a double-header on Wednesday.

With eight freshmen on the current roster, coach Ken Eriksen said he is especially proud of the achievements the Bulls (4-7) made to come back after a weekend of defeats at the TaxAct Clearwater Invitational.

“The freshmen played extremely well and they’re not shying away from the lights right now…for us to bounce back after a tough weekend and play pretty close to flawless for 14 innings… [they] did a phenomenal job,” Eriksen said.

Game one

Keeping FGCU (7-6) scoreless for the entire game, a strong USF defense was the reason for a victorious first game.

Senior pitcher Gabriella Nori successfully threw 10 strikeouts, marking her best performance for USF since transferring in the fall. Senior infielder Megan Pierro also had a stunning catch over the white paint in top of the second inning, fouling out designated hitter senior Abbey Thomas.

The Bulls’ only runs on the board were scored early in the bottom of the first inning. An RBI from senior outfielder Meghan Sheehan put USF ahead. The other two runs were scored in the bottom of the second from a triple by Pierro and a single from sophomore utility Natalie Zweig.

Eriksen said he was happy about Nori’s complete game shutout, especially as she navigates a new team as a transfer from Lehigh University.

“She’s been working really hard. It’s not easy for a transfer to come in and fit in right away…sometimes they have to relax and not try so hard and you saw that in [Nori] tonight. She’s doing what we expected her to do,” Eriksen said.

In the midst of competition, Nori found herself focused on doing what she needed to do – pitching the ball.

While a lot of it comes from herself, Nori said her catchers are a large part of creating that success to steer away from last weekend’s losses.

“I felt a lot more confident in myself. I also am more comfortable with the catchers so there’s a comfort level with it too. I feel like we played well in Clearwater and just came out on the wrong side of the ball. So to come out and win felt good.”

Game two

Even after adjustments made at the plate and a completely different batting order, USF won over FGCU 3-1. The Eagles held the Bulls to a 1-0 lead until they cracked open the sixth despite almost getting no hits.

Eriksen said he believes the Bulls flourished from mixing and matching the weapons they have in their lineup.

“​We’re pretty diversified right now. It’s nice to have those types of tools in a toolbox and just wait for a certain time. Just to try not to use all your bullets early, which we didn’t tonight. We waited for the right time to get those guys in,” Eriksen said.

As the game was tied 1-1 thanks to a run from senior outfielder Emilee Hanlon, the Bulls slowly loaded the bases with the help of situational hitting and maturity in the batter’s box shining through.

Pierro said having the ability to be patient offensively is the biggest adjustment USF was able to make.

“Clearly, our hitting was a lot better today. So that was a great adjustment that we made. I think something good to stick with going through this week,” Pierro said.

Although the Bulls walked away with two triumphs, they will need to show consistency and get right back to work as they face No. 5 Clemson on Thursday night.

Despite the challenge the Tigers might throw at them, Eriksen said he expects nothing less than a win.

“I’m expecting [Clemson to play] like… Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and Duke. You’re playing against a team where you have to be flawless,” Eriksen said.

Up next, South Florida will face No. 5 Clemson on Thursday at 6 p.m. as they host the USF Invitational at home from Thursday-Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and Bulls Unlimited.