By MARK HEISE
TAMPA - Despite an early 6-9 record, the University of South Florida softball
team once again proved it could match up against any team in the
At the end of Wednesday night's marquee matchup, the Bulls found
themselves on the wrong side of a fisted RBI single and a would-be
double turned double play, turning in a close 3-1 loss to No. 4 Florida
in front of 1,611 fans at the USF Softball Stadium.
A two-out rally in the top of the sixth, followed by a rally-stopping
two outs in the bottom of the inning proved to be the difference maker,
as Florida's Kirsti Merritt produced a game-tying RBI,
muscling a single through the left side despite getting jammed, and
scoring on a two-run homer in the next at bat.
USF's chance to tie the game in the bottom of the inning ended as Monica
Santos crushed a line drive toward right-center, only to be cut off
and turned into a line-out double play by the Gators' second baseman.
"Theirs fell, and ours didn't. That's the one thing you can say about
our game tonight," Bulls' head coach Ken Eriksen said afterward. "I will
say that was probably the best game we've played defensively and
offensively all year."
The Bulls' bats looked sharp from the start, putting runners in scoring
position or putting a run on the board in five of the seven innings, and
putting the pressure on Gators' ace Hannah Rogers.
After sending four runners into scoring position but not breaking through in
the second and third innings, USF found the scoreboard in the fourth.
Kenshyra Jackson jumped all over the first pitch from Rogers,
driving it into the crowd sitting on the berm in right-center for an
opposite-field homer - her first of the season. It was the Bulls' first
run since Friday, breaking a streak of 31 straight scoreless innings.
"We were one or two hits away from leading 5-0," Eriksen said. "Give the
pitcher on the other team a lot of credit, we were hitting but she kept
battling and battling."
USF looked in control through five, as junior pitcher Sara Nevins
stymied the Gators' bats on a combination of cutters and changeups,
striking out eight and allowing just one hit - a one-out single in the
In the sixth, Florida finally caught up to Nevins' cutter. With two
outs, the Gators strung together three straight hits - the big one a
go-ahead two-run homer from sophomore Lauren Haeger, taking a 3-1 lead
into the bottom of the sixth.
The Bulls looked to answer in their half of the inning, working a
one-out walk with Morgan Litchfield, and following it up with a
pinch-hit single off the bat of Nicolette Levine. With runners on first
and second, pinch-hitter Monica Santos smoked a line drive right at the
second baseman, who in turn stepped on second to end USF's final rally.
Despite the loss, Eriksen and the record-setting single-game crowd saw
the same spark of a talented team with the pieces nearly all put
"I'm excited for practice tomorrow," Eriksen said. "We've set our
lineup, we've gotten better. There's a lot we can take away from this
USF will return to the field Friday, facing Kentucky and Illinois in a
doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. at the USF Softball Stadium.