TAMPA - After out-scoring Rutgers 20-0 over two games Saturday, the University of South Florida softball team would use just one run to complete the sweep in the Big East opening weekend.
The 22nd-ranked Bulls (29-5 overall, 3-0 Big East) used a good start from sophomore pitcher Sara Nevins and solid defense to hold the Scarlet Knights scoreless for the third straight game, grabbing a 1-0 win Sunday at USF Stadium to continue building on USF's best start in school history.
"I told our team eventually we would benefit from all those 1-0, 2-1 games we played earlier this year," head coach Ken Eriksen said. "I don't think we've ever thought we could just come out, throw our gloves on the field and think we're going to win. We find a way."
USF had ample opportunity to score early in the game putting a runner in scoring position in each of the first three innings. A double from Stephanie Medina in the first and single off the bat of Laura Fountain in the second each resulted in runners stranded on second base, as Rutgers freshman pitcher Alyssa Landrith would not allow a hit for the rest of the game.
"Coach Eriksen told us every day is different. You don't know how the other team is going to come out," senior outfielder Gina Kafalas said. "So we just tried to come out ready to play on our end, and we got the job done today."
The Bulls finally snapped a scoreless tie in the fifth, using two hit batters and a pair of walks to provide Nevins a 1-0 lead. With runners on second and third and two out, the Scarlet Knights elected to intentionally walk Medina, who had been hitting well all series, and face another hot bat in junior designated player Kenshyra Jackson.
A similar strategy had worked well for Rutgers in the third, as Landrith coaxed Jackson into a groundout to end that threat. In the fifth, however, Landrith came too far inside on Jackson, connecting with the righty's forearm to force home the game's only run.
"It was one of those deals where you dig in, bow your neck, and if they hit you, they hit you," Eriksen said. "She took one for the team today, but we were prepared for that situation and put ourselves into that opportunity with some good at bats."
It would be all Nevins needed, tossing six and two-thirds innings, allowing just four hits - three infield singles - as the Bulls shut out Rutgers for the third time this weekend. Nevins struck out five and picked up her 16th win of the year.
Freshman pitcher Sam Greiner came on to get the final out for the Bulls, recording her second save of the season.