USF Senior Writer Tom Zebold is giving GoUSFBulls.com readers a five-part position preview heading into the week of USF's season opener at home against Marshall on Friday, Feb. 8. This week's installment features a middle infield that includes talented returner Kourtney Salvarola at shortstop and a number of players competing for time at second base.
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - Head coach Ken Eriksen is excited to have the Bulls' version of Derek Jeter back at shortstop for the program's run at another Women's College World Series.
Junior Kourtney Salvarola is ready for her second full season at the position after accomplishing a ton for the Bulls in 2012. The Arnold, Md., native became an All-Big East First Team selection while leading USF in batting average (.324), doubles (12) and finishing second in RBIs (32).
Eriksen likes Salvarola's bat but loves to talk about her skills in the field, relating her to Jeter because of her ability to make really tough plays look easy. Salvarola was second on the team with 113 defensive assists last season, posting a .934 fielding percentage.
"She's a phenomenal athlete with instincts going to her left and to her right," Eriksen said. "She's able to make the off-balance throw moving in towards the plate on a chopper, and she makes it looks really smooth and easy. She's always going to be where the ball is going to be."
Salvarola started her USF career off helping out at second and third, and her permanent move to shortstop last season allowed Eriksen to put many players like graduated Janine Richardson back in their natural positions. Salvarola and the Bulls flourished, posting a .968 fielding percentage on the way to a 50-14 season that ended with the program's first trip to the Women's College World Series.
"We're very fortunate that Kourtney continues to get better daily," Eriksen said.
USF had second base covered well last season with graduated Alexis Nowell and now Eriksen has a number of talented players he's still trying to choose from to fill the position.
Like his pitching rotation, Eriksen said his decisions on playing time will depend on matchups. He also thinks he can't go wrong with whatever name he puts into the lineup.
"It's a great problem to have. What's going to be the fit against Marshall? What's going to be the fit against Michigan? What's going to be the fit against Florida and Louisville?" Eriksen said. "I'm in a good position where I'm not going to get hurt with any decision I make."
One option is freshman Monica Santos, who has gained a ton of experience on the world stage. The Tampa native was a member of the Puerto Rico national team that earned bronze medals at the Youth World Cup (2009, 2011) and at the 2010 Junior Pan American Games. Santos was a team captain for three of her four seasons at Wharton High School.
"Monica is coming off a long stint with the Puerto Rican national team and is a very aware ballplayer. She's has a great bat from the right side," Eriksen said.
Another option is Dani Wayt, who transferred to USF after earning first-team all-conference honors at the JUCO level for State College of Florida. The Oviedo, Fla., native also made the all-state second team after leading her program in batting average, RBIs, doubles, singles and at-bats in 2012.
"She's a very slick fielder that can play second or short. She's learning to hit Division I pitching right now," Eriksen said.
Sophomore Sydney Dinelli is another player that brings versatility to the infield after appearing in 23 games primarily as a pinch hitter for the Bulls last season.
"Sydney Dinelli also can play third and get behind the plate. She is pretty clutch when it comes to a pinch hitting role and she's doing a great job this preseason," Eriksen said.
Eriksen knows he also can count on junior Ilaura Reeves, who can play second, shortstop and is a valuable pinch runner.
"We have some nice diversity there, so we're not going to get hurt at any one position," Eriksen said.
Head back to GoUSFBulls.com next Tuesday afternoon for a look at USF's corner infielders.