USF facing familiar road in NCAA softball regionals
For the University of South Florida softball team, the Road to Oklahoma City will begin in Gainesville.
For the second straight year, USF earned an NCAA Regional berth in Gainesville. The Bulls (43-14), champions of the Big East Conference tournament, open Friday against Georgia Southern (32-28). The host Florida Gators (52-7), the No. 2 national seed in the 64-team NCAA bracket, face Hampton (33-24).
Meanwhile, the Florida State Seminoles (30-24) earned a trip to Mobile, Ala., where they face Mississippi State (32-22) on Friday. Should FSU escape the first round, it's likely that host and No. 13 national seed South Alabama (45-7) will await.
At stake is a spot in the NCAA Super Regionals, a best-of-three series that unlocks the door to the eight-team Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Last season, USF upset UF at the regionals in Gainesville, then defeated Hofstra at home in the super regionals, clinching the program's first trip to Oklahoma City.
The Bulls aren't ready to look that far ahead.
“It still hasn't hit me, that we actually went to the World Series (last season),'' Bulls junior left-hander Sara Nevins said. “It's like a dream, just thinking about it.
“We have the people to get back to the World Series, but that's not our focus at this moment. It's always about the next game. If we go game by game, that's the right approach. One inning at a time. One batter at a time.''
USF has the confidence of knowing it eliminated the Gators last season. But this season, UF defeated the Bulls 9-1 on April 10 in Gainesville, while also winning 3-1 at USF on Feb. 27.
“Everybody knows our potential,'' Bulls third baseman Kenshyra Jackson said. “We're confident in each other. All of our goals are still in play.''
The Bulls enter NCAA tournament play on a high, having swept through three games (by a combined 7-0 score) to capture the program's first Big East tournament title.
Pitching obviously will be a key for USF, which has a 1.23 team ERA and 23 shutouts. Nevins is 25-7 with an 0.94 ERA, while Lindsey Richardson is 11-4 with a 1.18 ERA.
USF coach Ken Eriksen said he would put his pitching staff up against any other in the nation. Last season's NCAA tournament run provides additional confidence.
“We have the ingredients for success,'' Eriksen said. “We have to go out and do it, not get ahead of ourselves, just play the way we're capable of playing.''
After capturing the Big East tournament, Eriksen hoped USF would have an opportunity to host a regional. Instead, Big East peer Louisville, which was defeated by USF in the conference semifinals, got the nod as the No. 15 national seed.
Oklahoma (47-4) is the No. 1 national seed, followed by Florida, Oregon (46-9), Texas (44-8), Arizona State (45-10), Missouri (35-11), Tennessee (44-10), Michigan (45-10), LSU (40-14), Alabama (42-13), Washington (38-15), Kentucky (38-18), South Alabama (45-7), Nebraska (40-13), Louisville (46-11) and Texas A&M (39-15).