USF softball sweeps East Carolina to begin conference play

Senior pitcher Gabriella Nori (above) appeared in all three games after being sidelined for a month with an injury, allowing just one run and pitching a total of 14 innings throughout the series against East Carolina. ORACLE PHOTO/CARLEIGH BENEDICT

USF softball started off conference play on a high note with a three-game sweep over the ECU Pirates.

It was a great weekend for the Bulls (22-15, 3-0 AAC), as they outplayed the Pirates (21-12, 0-3 AAC) with a great offensive showing. East Carolina’s pitching staff allowed the Bulls to get on base easily, and USF’s offense took advantage by getting hits when it mattered most.

Here’s how the Bulls performed throughout all three games:

USF 6, ECU 1

The Bulls had an excellent performance on Friday, beating the Pirates 6-1.

Senior pitcher Gabriella Nori was back on the mound after being sidelined for a month with a minor injury. Even though she only managed to strike out two batters throughout the game, the defense played an impeccable game. ECU’s offense attempted to get things going in the seventh by loading the bases, but USF’s defense quickly put an end to its last attempt and allowed just one run in the game. 

Nori credited her defense for the win and said she had a hard time figuring out how to attack ECU’s batters.

“They swing early in the count. I’m used to having more strikeouts in a game than two, but my defense had my back,” Nori said. “When they started swinging, we decided to change our pitch calling to try to keep them off balance.”

Both teams had six hits throughout the game, but the Bulls’ great display of situational hitting ultimately marked the difference between both offenses.

Bulls coach Ken Eriksen said the offense’s effectiveness goes beyond statistics and explained the approach he took to ensure his teams’ success at the plate.

“This game is not just about statistics. You and I see in the box score that [Eigenmann] only had one hit over three at-bats, but I see three hard-hit line drives,” Eriksen said. “You’re trying to put the best offense that can also play the best defense out there, and I thought that’s what we did today, and they came through.”

USF 9, ECU 5

South Florida won Saturday’s game 9-5 despite falling behind by four runs in just the first inning.

ECU’s offense attacked early on, scoring four runs in the first inning and forcing Eriksen to take freshman pitcher Jaden Martinez out before the end of the inning. Junior pitcher Lexie Kopko had a strong outing to recover from the rough start, tossing 5.2 innings and allowing one run on three hits while walking two.

Just like Nori the day before, Kopko said she let her defense do its job in order to finish off on a better note. 

“My goal throughout the game was to get outs, I’m not really a strikeout pitcher,” Kopko said. “I rely on my defense a lot to make plays, and that’s what they did tonight.”

South Florida’s offense responded in the second inning with nine runs of its own, which was enough to outscore the Pirates.

Eriksen said the team was able to turn the game around, giving credit to the offense for hitting when it mattered.

“When they got out of the first inning, I told them that was the most important part of the game because you stopped the bleeding and gave us a chance to turn things around,” Eriksen said. “We didn’t have anybody with a multi-hit game.” 

USF 8, ECU 0

The Bulls finished off their sweep on Sunday with an 8-0 mercy rule win over the Pirates.

After the game and series wrapped, Eriksen said he was satisfied with how USF has bounced back offensively since its 8-7 win over Lehigh on March 17.

“It seems to be more competitive now on each at-bat than it was in the past,” Eriksen said. “Our game is a marathon, the more at-bats you get, the more confident you get.”

Pitching was excellent once again, as Nori pitched a six-inning shutout while allowing just three hits, walking one and striking out four.

Her series performance was lauded by Eriksen, who praised her for completing 82 pitches both on Friday and Sunday. 

“She’s been very efficient this week, and when you’re efficient, you can go a little bit longer,” Eriksen said.

The Bulls will take off to Kansas on Friday to face the Wichita State Shockers in a three-game weekend series.