USF softball’s NCAA regional return could be in jeopardy

The Bulls have won three out of their eight away games this season. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Following a series loss to UAB on Sunday,  USF has yet to win a conference series half way through the season.

However, this season has been full of challenges. Since the conference opener on March 8, USF has won three out of its nine conference games so far. 

The Bulls have not lived up to standards set by seasons in years past. USF (23-13, 3-6 AAC) entered this season looking to return to the NCAA tournament after not qualifying for regionals for the first time since 2018.

Here is a brief overview of the highs and lows that have transpired so far this season.

Midseason triumph

The Bulls started conference play against Charlotte, who was ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll. USF won the game after an 11-inning clash.

Charlotte (17-12, 6-3 AAC) started out in the lead, but the Bulls eventually came out on top after sophomore infielder Kathy-Garcia Soto scored the first run on a wild pitch. 

The game went into extra innings after South Florida tied the game with a two-RBI single. 

Redshirt senior outfielder Jordyn Kadlub finished off the game with a pop fly which powered the win for USF.

Charlotte is new to the AAC this year, like multiple other schools on USF’s schedule.

After making it to the NCAA Regionals last season they were one of the more difficult teams on the Bulls schedule.

The victory established the Bulls’ ability to hold their own against tough opponents in the conference.

 Midseason heartbreak

Earlier in the season, USF started off the South Florida Showdown Tournament with losses to two top-ten teams on the same day.

No. 4 Washington and No. 7 Oklahoma State both faced off against South Florida on Feb. 22.

Washington (22-5, 6-3 AAC) won its match against USF 2-1 after a home run in the third inning, and another in the earlier part of the fifth. USF loaded the bases in the sixth inning, however, it was not enough to pull out a win.

In the four games South Florida has played against Washington in program history, South Florida has only won once in February of 2001.

USF failed to win against either of the nationally-ranked teams that Thursday. 

Midseason MVPs

Two Bulls have proven to be most valuable to the team throughout the first half of this season – redshirt sophomore pitcher Payton Dixon and junior pitcher Belle Sardja. 

Both pitchers were integral in the doubleheader against Villanova that allowed USF softball to gain two historic program milestones.

USF reached its 1,500th win and coach Ken Eriksen’s 1,100th career win after the first and second games. 

“For two collegiate pitchers to pitch a seven-inning ballgame against a team that swings the bat really well, I was really proud of what they did,” Eriksen told The Oracle on March 4. 

Related: USF softball collects historic milestones in Villanova sweep

In the first game, Sarja threw a three-hit total game which was her fourth of the season. She has had 62 strikeouts this season, and has an ERA of 2.29.

Throughout the complete first game, Dixon had 10 strikeouts and in the second match she allowed only two hits throughout the duration of the match. 

Dixon has pitched 98.0 innings this year and has an ERA of 1.43

  Looking ahead

After falling to UAB in the final match of the series, USF will face North Texas in a three-game series Thursday through Saturday.

The Mean Green (18-12, 8-1 AAC) are new to the AAC this year and are evenly matched with the Bulls this season.

North Texas was ranked No. 3 on the preseason poll whilst USF was ranked No. 4. 

The Bulls will face No. 20 Florida and No. 21 Wichita State later in the season. Both teams are nationally ranked.

Grade: C+

USF Softball faces off against North Texas at home on Thursday at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.