Bulls fall 5-1 to Sooners' power bats in CWS opener
OKLAHOMA CITY -- USF softball was the unseeded surprise team making its College World Series debut Thursday, while Oklahoma was the national powerhouse back for its seventh appearance a half-hour from campus at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
And yet midway through the fourth inning, USF had a 1-0 lead on the Sooners, with ace Sara Nevins throwing a no-hitter, running through a loaded lineup with five strikeouts in her first eight outs.
That all changed with one swing, as Oklahoma freshman Lauren Chamberlain crushed a two-run home run to straightaway center for a 2-1 lead, and the Sooners pulled away to a 5-1 victory, sending the Bulls into the losers' bracket.
"The margin of error becomes smaller at this level against a great hitting team like that," said USF coach Ken Eriksen of a Sooners lineup that took the national lead with its 96th home run of the season; the Bulls hit 27 this year. "I thought their team took advantage of a couple of mistakes we made, pitching-wise ... You've got to play flawless softball to move on into the winners' bracket."
Instead, the Bulls (50-13) get today off, then play an elimination game Saturday at noon ET against LSU, which lost 5-3 to top-seeded Cal on Thursday. Win there, the Bulls have to play again Saturday night, then would have to beat Friday's Oklahoma-Cal winner twice Sunday to advance to the best-of-three championship series.
USF was outnumbered in the capacity crowd, but one section of Bulls fans proudly wore neon-green T-shirts that said "Feed the Mouse," Eriksen's phrase for sending grounders to the steady glove of senior third baseman Jessica Mouse.
"I'm so thankful our fans were able to make it out to Oklahoma City," Mouse said. "It's definitely nice to have people cheering for you in (your) corner, especially when you're going up against a team that's 20 miles down the road. They've got the whole state behind them, but we're very thankful."
USF was the aggressive team early, getting a runner in scoring position with one out in the first and third. Then, in the fourth, Mouse reached on an error, and pinch-runner Courtney Goff scored from second on a two-out single by shortstop Kourtney Salvarola for a 1-0 lead.
"That's a tough place to play. You're playing in front of a lot of hometown people. ... My team just showed me what they're made of, because they didn't show any type of nervousness whatsoever," Eriksen said. "I was very proud of what they did today."
USF trailed just 2-1 in the sixth inning, but Chamberlain hit a double, and fellow All-American Keilani Ricketts -- who had 11 strikeouts against the Bulls -- hit an RBI triple, later scoring on a two-out single. Oklahoma (51-8) closed its scoring with a bases-loaded walk, reaching the five-run mark for a 14th game in a row.
Nevins, a Pinellas Park graduate, came in with a 0.79 ERA in the postseason but gave up five earned runs, though she had the respect of Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso.
"Sara Nevins is a tough, tough lefty. Very, very good pitcher," she said. "I wouldn't want to face her again. I hope we don't."