Resilient USF Ready for Conference Tournament
EVENT: American Athletic Conference Championship
SCHEDULE: Wednesday – Saturday
LOCATION: ECU Softball Complex, Greenville, N.C.
USF'S FIRST GAME: Thursday vs. Memphis, 10 a.m.
WATCH LIVE: American Digital Network
TWITTER UPDATES: @USFSoftball
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, MAY 10, 2017 – Resilient USF softball is playing with a purpose and that's to capture a league title together as a team.
After heating up down the final stretch of the regular season, USF is healthy and hopeful heading into the American Athletic Conference Championship. Head coach Ken Eriksen's fourth-seeded squad begins the single-elimination tournament with a quarterfinal test against No. 5 seed Memphis on Thursday at 10 a.m. in Greenville, N.C.
“I really think we're actually rising and we're finally going to peak. I think it's going to be right at the right time,” said senior Kristen Wyckoff, a unanimous all-conference outfield selection.
USF (32-23) extended its streak of 30-plus win seasons to seven by wrapping up the regular season with seven wins in the final 10 outings. It's was incredible feat for the Bulls to reach this season considering all the adversity they've had to overcome.
Eriksen admitted USF has dealt with the most injuries he's seen in his 21 seasons as head coach of the program. The injury bug didn't waste any time, clamping down on the Bulls in the first month of the season.
“We were so decimated at that point. Who knew who was coming back at one time,” Eriksen said. “To have your top two players in the lineup out with broken hands. To have a pitcher down with ligament strains and your starting shortstop with a rotator cuff, and the starting catcher, a potential All-American, out with an ACL. What could go wrong next?”
Instead of folding, USF forged ahead as a collective unit. Players like versatile junior Lauren Evans filled in at different positions on the field while young Bulls grew up fast in real game situations.
“In all actuality, we were in the postseason when the injuries started. Our second guys had to come in and perform right away in duress,” Eriksen said. “When you're doing that constantly, you build up a callus to pressure and a callus to duress. It think that's why we've done a pretty decent job of putting ourselves back in position down the stretch right now. Hopefully it carries forward.”
USF's next bout with adversity could come this weekend because of Mother Nature. Forecasts in Greenville call for thunderstorms on Thursday and more could be in store for Saturday's championship game that ESPN will air live at noon.
Rain or shine, USF remains hungry for its first American tournament title and the Bulls are savoring the underdog role as a four seed.
“I think we're going surprise some people when we get out there and show what we can do,” all-conference outfielder Astin Donovan said. “This is our time to do it.”
- USF eyes its second conference crown in as many seasons after capturing The American's regular season title last spring.
- USF has already faced quarterfinal opponent Memphis three times this season, sweeping the Tigers April 21-23 at USF Softball Stadium.
- USF is looking for a return trip to the conference championship game after falling to host Tulsa, 4-0, in Oklahoma last spring.
- USF has advanced to the conference semifinals in each of the past two seasons.
- Capturing the conference crown would ensure USF of its fifth NCAA Regional trip in the past six seasons.
Conference Championship Schedule
Wednesday, May 10 (The American Digital Network)
GAME 1: No. 3 UCF vs. No. 6 East Carolina - 1 p.m. ET
GAME 2: No. 2 Houston vs. No. 7 UConn - 3:30 p.m. ET
Thursday, May 11 (The American Digital Network)
GAME 3: No. 4 USF vs. No. 5 Memphis - 10 a.m. ET
GAME 4: Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2 - 12:30 p.m. ET
Friday, May 12 (The American Digital Network)
GAME 5: No. 1 Tulsa vs. Winner of Game 3 - 1 p.m. ET
Saturday, May 13 (ESPN)
GAME 6: Winner of Game 5 vs. Winner of Game 4 - Noon ET
Be sure to follow USF softball on social media (Twitter / Facebook / Instagram) and visit GoUSFBulls.com for the most up-to-date information. The USF softball program has been one of the most successful on campus, making 12 NCAA tournament appearances, including a trip to the Women's College World Series in 2012. USF returns 14 players from the 2016 squad that advanced to the NCAA Tournament, including, first-team all-conference selection Lauren Evans, and second-team selections Astin Donovan and Kristen Wyckoff.
- #GoBulls –