Bulls secure elusive Big East softball title
It took 10 innings, but the University of South Florida softball team won its first Big East tournament championship on Saturday, edging top-seeded Notre Dame 1-0.
Pitching was the headline going into the game, with USF's Sara Nevins — the Big East Pitcher of the Year — going against Notre Dame's Laura Winter — the Big East Player of the Year.
And, as expected, pitching dominated as the teams combined for four hits and no runs through the first seven innings.
“We went 202/3 innings of shutout ball,” USF coach Ken Eriksen said. “That's pretty impressive to me. … Our kids just kept their heads on and played moment to moment.”
Winter pitched all 10 innings, giving up only an unearned run and striking out 11.
Nevins earned the win, throwing 133 pitches in 92/3 innings, allowing only four hits and striking out 12.
The Bulls scored the winning run in the top of the 10th after freshman catcher Lee Ann Spivey led off with an infield single and advanced to second base on a throwing error by Fighting Irish third baseman Katey Haus.
After a Morgan Litchfield strikeout, Monica Santos dropped a single into left field, moving Spivey to third. Ashli Goff drove Spivey home with a single through the right side of the infield.
Goff then made the defensive play of the game with an outfield assist after Notre Dame's Cassidy Whidden hit a ball to the right side. Playing right field, Goff picked up the ball and threw it to first base, beating Whidden and stopping Notre Dame's rally before it could start.
Senior Lindsey Richardson relieved Nevins and recorded the final out, ending the game by striking out Chloe Saganowich.
Spivey, Goff and Nevins were among the six Bulls on the All-Tournament Team, along with third baseman Kenshyra Jackson, shortstop Kourtney Salvarola and center fielder D'Anna Devine.
Nevins also won Most Outstanding Player as USF went 3-0 in the tournament without allowing a run.
“Since we haven't had (a title) before, it feels really good … not having to worry about whether we get a berth (into the NCAA tournament),” Nevins said.
For USF, a Big East championship strengthens the Bulls' hopes of hosting a NCAA regional next weekend. Sixteen schools host four-team regionals on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
“I hope the committee was watching on television,” Eriksen said. “We're packing the place. We just beat a team that was really, really good. We'll see. Revenue-wise and excitement-wise — ESPN makes a lot of calls on these types of things — I think we're in the running.”