The 2012 season was a historic year for the USF softball team. The Bulls reached the Women’s College World Series for the first time in program history with a 50-14 overall record and 17-5 conference mark. They joined Connecticut and DePaul as the only BIG EAST programs to reach the WCWS in 22 seasons.
Connecticut went 3-1 in the Hempstead Regional to reach the WCWS in 1993. The Huskies went 1-2 including a 2-1 win in eight innings against Florida State. The BIG EAST did not have another member in the final group of eight until 2007, when DePaul reached Oklahoma City, the host site since 1990. The Blue Demons swept through the Carbondale Regional (3-0) and Super Regional (2-0) but went 1-2 in Oklahoma City, defeating Arizona State 3-1.
USF’s journey to the WCWS featured wins in Gainesville, Fla., against UCF (1-0), Florida Gulf Coast (8-3) and Florida (1-0). Five days later, the Bulls hosted the Super Regionals. Falling 2-1 in 11 innings to Hofstra, USF came back the following day with back-to-back 2-1 wins against the Pride, earning their ever trip to Oklahoma City.
The path to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium was not easy. First-day action of the WCWS featured the No. 4 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. After a 5-1 defeat, the Bulls were sent to an elimination game against LSU June 2. The Tigers had been paired against No. 1 California two days earlier and fell short, 5-3. Facing elimination, both teams remained scoreless until a sacrifice fly from LSU scored the gamewinner in the bottom of the sixth.
The historic postseason run fell short of a Championship series for the Bulls, who finished No. 8 in the final national poll. After a disappointing first-round loss in the BIG EAST Championship, the Bulls rallied to win five of the team’s first six NCAA tournament games to record one of the greatest postseason runs in BIG EAST history.
Following last year’s success, USF was tabbed as the preseason favorite in the conference for the 2013 season, as voted upon by league coaches. “I think last year’s success will put an impetus in our team to try and get back to that level of stature that they achieved going to Oklahoma City,” said USF head coach Ken Eriksen. “It reinforces the fact that we really worked hard on the details last year. We worried about the little things. The big things like the scoreboard will take care of themselves, but we paid attention to playing the game the right way on every pitch so if we can keep that focus going I think we have a pretty good shot.”
The Bulls return their entire pitching staff from last year’s WCWS squad. The rotation is anchored by junior Sara Nevins, an all-American and a top 10 finalist for the NFCA Player of the Year award in 2012. The Pinellas Park, Fla., native posted a 31-8 record and finished third in the nation with a 1.12 earned run average as a sophomore. She threw three no-hitters, including no-hitters in consecutive days, and posted one perfect game.
“We already know that there’s going to be a target on our back,” said Eriksen when referring to the pressure that comes with 2012’s success. “As far as added pressure goes, I think that comes from the top down. To me I love the game, I love to teach the game. It doesn’t matter to me if we’re up 10, down 10 whatever, you’ve still got to play the game and we really want to just take care of the moment. So I think if we can keep that mature focus going on with girls 18-22 we’ll be in pretty good shape. Sometimes the toughest acre to cultivate is the six inches between your ears.”
The Bulls, ranked No. 12 in the preseason USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Poll, begin the season Feb. 8 as they host the USF-Wilson DeMarini Opening Day Tournament. USF will get Marshall at 2:30 p.m. before facing Michigan and Samford Feb. 9 and Florida Atlantic Feb. 10.