Bulls, Nevins shut out Irish for Big East title
TAMPA -- USF softball has its first-ever Big East championship, outlasting top-seeded Notre Dame with a 10-inning, 1-0 win for the Bulls' third consecutive shutout that officially sends USF to the NCAA regionals.
Junior lefty Sara Nevins dominated for the third day in a row, striking out 12 and outpitching Big East Player of the Year Laura Winter, who matched the Pinellas Park graduate well into extra innings in a thrilling pitchers' duel.
"What was it, (22) and two-thirds innings of shutout ball? That's pretty impressive to me," coach Ken Eriksen said. "This is the last of the Big East tournaments that's going to have everybody ... we beat one of the best softball lineups in Big East history with Louisville, Notre Dame, DePaul. For us to come out on top in the last one, that says a lot."
USF broke through for the game's only run in the 10th, when freshman catcher Lee Ann Spivey led off with a ground ball to third, and the throw sailed wide, putting her at second base. Another freshman, Mo Santos, singled and USF had runners at second and third when outfielder Ashli Goff singled off Winter's leg for a long-awaited RBI.
"I love teaching, and I like to see my students get rewarded," said Eriksen, whose team made the College World Series but entered the tournament on the NCAA bubble. "They're doing great in the classroom, like a 3.3 (GPA) as a team. To play flawless softball, they work hard. They work really, really hard, and they have fun."
The two pitchers were dominating through nine innings -- Nevins took a perfect game into the sixth, and both pitchers had allowed two singles each as the only baserunners through seven innings. Nevins struck out 12 and Winter struck out 11, and Nevins did this in the same week her father Joe suffered a heart attack and had bypass surgery.
Senior Lindsey Richardson came in for the final out, getting a strikeout to seal an amazing run of pitching. The inning's second out may have been the game's best, as Notre Dame's Cassidy Whidden hit what looked to be a base hit to right, only to see Goff field it and make a quick throw to first for a rare 9-3 groundout.
USF is only the second time a Big East team has won a Big East tournament without allowing a run, and the first since UConn in 1990, the conference's first season of softball.
The Bulls have an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament and will learn their draw tonight as the field is announced. They're unlikely to host a regional, but Eriksen said he hopes their strong play this weekend gives them a chance.