GAINESVILLE - The road to Oklahoma City just became one step shorter for the University of South Florida softball team.
The Bulls (48-11 overall) finished off the first leg of this road to the College World Series, getting ahead early and holding on to out-duel Florida 1-0 in the Gainesville Regional Championship Sunday. USF defeated all three teams in the region, going 3-0 in the tournament to advance to the Super Regionals for just the second time in school history.
Sophomore pitcher Sara Nevins tossed her seventh complete game shutout of the year, giving the Bulls' offense a chance to manufacture a run without the stress of a deficit looming. Nevins struck out 12, allowing just five hits to pick up her 29th win of the season and third win of the NCAA Tournament.
USF pushed its sole run across in the fourth. Stephanie Medina, who had been putting good swings on the ball with little luck all weekend, led off for the Bulls and drove a long double to the wall in center field. Stephanie Juergens came on to run for Medina, and moved to third on Janine Richardson's good sacrifice bunt.
With two outs, Kenshyra Jackson continued her hot streak, chopping an infield single to the left side to bring home Juergens and break the scoreless tie.
That was all USF would need, as Nevins was masterful through the first five innings, allowing just three hits and striking out eight before running into her first real threat in the sixth. Facing the heart of the Gators' order, Nevins surrendered back-to-back hits and a walk to load the bases with no outs.
With Florida threatening to tie things up or even take the lead, Nevins did exactly what she's done all season long, digging in to strike out the next two hitters and force the third to ground out to Kourtney Salvarola at shortstop, ending the inning and preserving the lead.
USF's only other Super Regional appearance in its 27-year history came in 2006 after winning the Gainesville Regional that season. The Bulls ended up losing to UCLA in L.A. , but that will not repeat itself as USF will host one of eight 2012 NCAA Super Regionals, facing Hofstra.