By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY - The common talking point among coaches during Women's College World Series media day is an important one to keep in mind once play begins.
"Parity is happening and it's across the country. Any team in any part of the country can be here now. It makes this sport so much more exciting," Cal head coach Diane Ninemire said Wednesday afternoon at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
USF is a prime example of Ninemire's statement.
The Bulls rolled through a regular season that featured a victory over then-No. 4 Florida before they posted a stellar 46-11 record. The success helped punch USF's ticket to the NCAA Gainesville Regional, where it continued to motor past opponents, including the Gators once again, on the way to the program's first NCAA Super Regional berth since 2006. A doubleheader sweep of Hoftra last Saturday got the Bulls to their first-ever WCWS and who's to say more history can't be made in Oklahoma City.
"It's been a wide-open field all year long. It's been a very exciting parity-type of season for NCAA Division I softball," USF head coach Ken Eriksen said. "I'm really looking forward to this week because I think you're going to see some really good softball."
USF fans and supporters of the seven other teams in the field should share the same level of excitement because each coach will tell you any remaining team can win it all.
"The hard part is getting here," Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said.
It certainly won't be easy for the Bulls to just walk in and snatch a national title and it all starts with a dangerous opponent 1 p.m. (ET) Thursday in front of ESPN cameras. The No. 4 Sooners (50-8) have won eight straight and outscored NCAA tournament opponents, 45-5, before making the short trip to Oklahoma City for the final mission of the season.
USF hitters will dig into the batter's box and face a pitcher that's been compared to a national icon on the diamond. National player of the year Keilani Ricketts, the country's No. 3 pitcher, has a 0.99 earned run average on top of leading her team with a .407 batting average and she's hit 16 home runs.
"I equate Keilani to Babe Ruth," said Eriksen, who has coached Ricketts on Team USA. "There aren't many people that could be in the circle or be on the mound and throw the ball as well as Babe Ruth and Keilani did, and hit as well as they do also."
Stats, awards and compliments won't win ball games for any team in the field, however, once the umpire yells, "play ball." The most important pitch is the one being thrown in the present and USF has gotten to where it is today by keeping that in mind all year long.
"It's no overnight success by any stretch of the imagination," Eriksen said. "To keep a focus of what they did the last three, four weeks of the season is tremendous."
The grand prize is now within USF's grasp or any other team in the field. What will set it apart from the rest is continuing to do what has made each so great at this point in the journey.
"The team this week that makes the least amount of mistakes and the team that executes the best is the team that's going to be on the podium at the end of the tournament," Eriksen said.
Let the excitement begin because it's anyone's game starting Thursday with the Bulls and Sooners.