Even in the off-season, USF softball head coach Ken Eriksen is continuing his winning ways.
Eriksen, also the head coach of the United States National Team, returned to Oklahoma City shortly after the Bulls’ first trip to the Women’s College World Series ended and has rattled off five consecutive wins with Team USA, earning a berth to the championship game in this weekend’s World Cup of Softball.
After topping Canada 9-1 in the Title IX 40th Anniversary Celebration Game June 23, Team USA is off to a 4-0 start in the 2012 World Cup of Softball, holding the best record in the field and a guaranteeing a spot in Monday’s championship game at 8 p.m. America plays Brazil Sunday at noon in the last game of pool play, having already knocked off Puerto Rico, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN2.
California’s Valerie Arioto has shone on Eriksen’s team in this tournament, pounding out three home runs in three games. Team USA has dominated in the pitching circle as well, as Eriksen’s squad has allowed just two runs through four games so far.
“This last week and a half, Val spent some time working on certain technical aspects of her swing, and you’re seeing the results right now,” Eriksen said. “And then we’ve got three pitchers who through 70 miles per hour with a good changeup, and then you’ve got someone who throws mid-sixties with great movement, it gives a coach a lot of options.”
Eriksen led Team USA to a five-inning, 8-0 win over Puerto Rico in the opening game, riding the pitching of Missouri’s Chelsea Thomas and Alabama’s Jackie Traina to a one-hit victory. America scored five runs in the third inning and didn’t have an inning without scoring at least one to head into the winner’s bracket.
“We’ve taken the philosophy of using a pitching staff as opposed to having one big gun, like we do at USF,” Eriksen said. “We’ve also done a good job creating runs against good pitching. We’re being smart about the game, using our speed and getting defenses to move laterally. That’s fastpitch softball, and that’s been a very good formula for us both at USF and with Team USA.”
Team USA jumped out to 2-0 Friday night, topping Australia 3-1 on the back of a two-run fourth inning. Arioto homered to break a scoreless tie in the fourth, and Lauren Gibson doubled home Amanda Chidester to give America its second run.
Arioto homered again Saturday morning against the Netherlands, a sixth-inning solo-shot to give Team USA a 2-1 win. The Dutch became the first team to take a lead against Team USA, breaking a scoreless tie in the fifth. Thomas pitched two innings of scoreless softball in relief, picking up the win for Team USA.
“Our pitchers have done a great job keeping us in the games long enough to get our bats going,” Eriksen said. “This afternoon, Jackie held (the Netherlands) to just the one run through five innings, and gave us a chance to tie things up with one swing of the bat.”
America topped Canada 9-0 in Saturday’s nightcap, using a four-run first inning and another Arioto bomb to catapult past the Canadians in five innings of work. Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts tossed a four-hit shutout, sending Team USA to yet another win. Eriksen’s squad will play two more games this weekend, then move on to the Canada Cup as it prepares for the 2012 World Championship in July.
“We’ve got this tournament, we’ve got the Canada Cup, and then the World Championships, so we’re really trying not to burn anybody out, while getting all of our pitchers comfortable with all of our catchers,” Eriksen said. “We’re trying to use this to give everybody the opportunity to play with each other, and find the best combinations. So far, it’s worked out well.”