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February 8, 2013

Bulls Softball Set to Open 2013 Season

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After an extremely successful 2012 season where the USF Bulls softball team went 50-14, and made it all the way to their first ever College World Series, the Bulls are back with some new pieces looking for any which way to make it back to the big dance.

USF will head into the 2013 season with a bevy of new faces on the team. After the departure of starters, seven newcomers will make their USF debut. As with last year, pitching and defense is the heart and soul of the team, but offensively the Bulls should impress as well.

The Bulls open the season with the USF-Wilson DeMarini Opening Day Tournament on Friday, February 8 against Marshall. Over the weekend they will play Michigan, Samford, and FAU.

Before you head to the tourney, let's catch up with some of the major storylines of the team.

Here's the breakdown:

Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys

These are probably the only awards and honors announced this time of year that the Bulls haven't won--yet.

Already many in the college softball world have high expectations of the 2013 team-- they are ranked first in the Big East Coaches Poll, twelfth nationally in the NFCA Poll, and tenth in the USA Softball Poll. The team is also the highest ranked team in Florida, beating out Florida and Florida State, both of whom the Bulls beat on the road to the CWS last season.

Even with all of the accolades, head coach Ken Eriksen says the he and the team feel no pressure.

"Not for me, and I hope not for the players," he said, "I mean, this is fun. I think if you keep that in perspective it's what we're doing today. You know we'll work hard. I can't guarantee you we're going to get a W at the end of the day, but I can guarantee you if we don't work hard we're not going to get it."

And that is what Eriksen teaches his team. Play game by game, inning by inning, and pitch by pitch.

"We never really want to get ahead of ourselves," said Eriksen, "let's just take care of the moment."

Back Again, For the First Time

If you followed any USF softball last year, even just a game, it was probably pretty clear to you: these girls can pitch! The Bulls return their whole staff this season. Lindsey Richardson, Sara Nevins, and Sam Greiner are all back, and this year there's a new arm in the mix. The Bulls now have FOUR talented pitchers that Coach Eriksen can use at will.

Last year the staff posted the second lowest team ERA in the nation at 1.23. Sara Nevins was in the running to have the lowest ERA of any pitcher in the country until late in the season (she finished with a 1.12 ERA for a fourth-place finish). Together they threw 17 complete games, three no-hitters, and one perfect game.

This year they add another lefty to the mix with freshman Erica Nunn. According to MaxPreps, in her senior year at Holly Springs High in North Carolina Nunn pitched 179 innings, earned 22 wins, struck out 334, and held a 0.51 ERA. Batters were .106 against her. Oh, yeah, and she BATTED .612.

Her hitting prowess has not gone unnoticed. Coach Eriksen has said that even when Nunn is not pitching he will find ways to get her in the line-up whether she is the designated player or is in the outfield.

So how can this pitching staff improve on their stellar performance from last year?

"Hold the other teams at zero all season long," said Erikson laughing, "but our philosophy of pitching and defense is not going to vary. We're going to put the best people out there in the best situations, and you might see all four pitchers in one inning. You might see all pitchers in multiple games. It's about working as a staff."

The pitchers have been working together all through the fall to improve themselves and get ready for the season.

"The pitching staff is pretty close cause we're paired together a lot," said senior pitcher Lindsey Richardson, "in weights and stuff we get paired up so the pitchers are all together. We do our own thing, our own running-- we even have our own infield practice."

Richardson says that Nunn is a welcome addition to the group, and she is great to work with.

"She's awesome. She's really easy to work with. She listens to suggestions, and welcomes all the information."

New Resident at the Hot Corner

This season there will be a new third baseman, but Bulls fans should be familiar with the name. This year Kenshyra Jackson takes over at third base. Jackson takes the place of graduated senior Jessica Mouse who transferred to USF last year from LSU, and quickly became a fan favorite with her superb defense.

Jackson spent most of last year as the designated player, and put up huge offensive numbers for the team. She carried a .460 slugging average, five home runs, and led the team with 37 RBIs that always seemed to come at the most clutch time.

In order to try to keep that swing and have another productive year Jackson says she's not trying to adjust her approach at the plate.

"I'm keeping it steady. I'm actually trying to keep it more calm, and not trying to change anything," she said.

As for playing in the field, Jackson says she is up to the task.

"I practiced a lot. Every practice I'm practicing on the field all the time, so I try to prepare myself all the time for anything."

The Fresh Fab Five

Okay, so not an original name from me, but they're freshmen, and by all accounts they are fabulous players. We've already covered Erica Nunn, but let's introduce the other three who Coach Eriksen says we will see a lot of throughout the spring.

Ask any player or coach to talk about a new player and the first name they say is Lee Ann Spivey. The catcher from Palm Coast, Fla. is expected to spend most of the season behind the plate. Players and coaches say she has a rocket arm that will soon be revered by base runners throughout the Big East.

She is also expected to bring a lot of power to the batting order. I saw it myself during a practice. She hits the ball HARD. It explodes off her bat. She was hitting line-drives that sailed over the fence. It's one thing to say, and it's another thing to see. Just go to a game and I'm sure you'll understand what I'm trying to explain here.

"It's probably the first time in a long time that we've had a natural catcher," said Eriksen, "she's got a pretty good arm. Good athlete. Can drive the ball, can run for base hits, she's probably up for some things with the junior national team right now."

In her senior year of high school Spivey had a .452 batting average, a .511 on-base percentage, and defensively had a .444 caught stealing percentage.

When Spivey is not behind the plate don't be surprised if you see her in the outfield or acting as designated player in order to keep her in the line-up.

Morgan Litchfield is another freshman to join the team who also brings a lot of offense to the table.

"She's hitting the ball real well," said Eriksen.

Litchfield is listed as a catcher and first basemen. In her senior year she held a .622 batting average, and accumulated 51 hits.

Another freshman comes to the Bulls from the Puerto Rican National Team. Standing at 4-foot-10, Monica Santos is an infielder who played her high school ball at Wharton high school in Tampa and had a .437 batting average with a .512 on-base percentage. She is expected to spend some time playing second and third base.

Courtney Kramer also joins the Bulls this year. She adds depth to the infield as a first baseman, as well as a capable left-handed bat. As a senior playing for Timber Creek High in Orlando she hit .405.

That will do it for our preseason look into USF softball. Make sure to check back with Runningthebulls.com frequently for your most up-to-date USF softball coverage. We look forward to an incredible season following the Bulls on their journey to get back to the postseason.



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