By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – One run was all the No. 24 Bulls needed to seize their first-ever Big East tournament title at home Saturday afternoon.
Nevins struck out 12 in 9 2/3 shutout innings while Ashli Goff provided the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th frame as the second-seeded Bulls got past top-seeded Notre Dame, 1-0, before a crowd of 843 at USF Softball Stadium.
“It means a lot considering it’s the last of the Big East tournaments that’s going to have everyone involved, including Notre Dame,” head coach Ken Eriksen said. “It just says that we beat one of the best softball lineups in the Big East’s history with Louisville, Notre Dame and DePaul. For us to come out on top in the last one says a lot.”
Nevins (25-7) threw a combined 22 2/3 scoreless innings in USF's three tournament shutouts to help the program capture the school’s sixth Big East tournament title and earn an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
“I had to make sure I didn’t leave anything over the plate and basically not try to blow it past anybody. I had to make sure they hit to my defense to make the outs,” the Big East Pitcher of the Year and the tournament’s most outstanding player said.
Big East Player of the Year Laura Winter (28-10) struck out 11 for Notre Dame while scattering five hits in the battle of the aces that was captured by ESPN2 cameras.
Nevins took a perfect game into the sixth inning before having to work her way out of trouble to keep the shutout intact in USF’s first trip to the league title game since 2008.
The junior left-hander retired her first 16 batters before Chloe Saganowich singled up the middle with one out in the bottom of the sixth. Kelsey Thornton followed with a bunt back to Nevins and beat out the throw to put runners on first and second. That’s as far as Notre Dame base runners would get to home, however, after Nevins got a pop out and a groundout to end the frame.
Nevins ran into more trouble at the bottom of the order in the eighth when Saganowich and Thornton each singled with two outs. Just like the sixth, Nevins handled the pressure well and ended the threat by getting Emilee Koerner to ground into a force out at second base.
Nevins fanned two to bring her strikeout total up to 12 in the bottom of the ninth and USF’s offense finally got into business in the 10th frame. Leadoff batter Lee Ann Spivey made her way to second on a throwing error to first by Katey Haus and USF had runners on second and third with one out after Monica Santos singled to left.
Goff followed with an RBI single that deflected off Winter’s leg for the only run USF needed.
“We all just pulled together at the end. We’ve been waiting so long for a Big East championship,” Goff said. “We just wanted to get the game over with.”
Nevins surrendered her first walk of the game with two outs in the 10th before senior right-hander Lindsey Richardson struck out Saganowich to end the game.
Eriksen’s squad joins the 2007 USF women’s tennis team, the 2008 men’s soccer team, the 2009 men’s tennis team, the 2012 women’s golf team and the 2013 men’s golf team as Big East tournament champions.
Joining Nevins and Goff on the All-Big East tournament team were Spivey, D'Anna Devine, Kenshyra Jackson and Kourtney Salvarola.