Bulls keep it light, prepare for challenge vs. LSU
NORMAN, Okla. -- Having delivered batting practice to all of USF's softball players Friday afternoon, assistant coach Monica Triner looked to the plate, eyed up the next batter, smiled and knocked the protective screen in front of her to the ground as if she didn't really need it.
Working out at Oklahoma University's stadium, the Bulls closed their final practice before today's College World Series game against LSU on a light-hearted note, allowing the team's managers, trainers and staff to take their swings, with head coach Ken Eriksen finishing the session with a home-run shot to right field.
The message: When you've played long enough to be alive in June, keeping a positive attitude is as important as any fundamentals you can brush up on in practice.
"This is a team that you trust will take that mantel of responsibility, even when you're not overcoaching them," said Eriksen, whose team faces the Tigers at noon ET Saturday in an elimination game at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
USF had Friday off after taking a 5-1 loss to fourth-seeded Oklahoma on Thursday afternoon, leading 1-0 in the fourth before giving up a two-run home run to All-American Lauren Chamberlain. LSU and USF are the only unseeded teams in the CWS field, and the Bulls want to clear another hurdle with their first College World Series win, which would advance them to another elimination game Saturday night.
"We said in regionals that we're in it for the long haul. I don't think we're done yet," senior outfielder Gina Kafalas said. "We want to play our best softball and win, and we're really excited to play again. Not a lot of teams have the opportunity to be playing right now."
In facing LSU ace Rachele Fico and her NCAA-best 0.92 ERA today, the Bulls will have faced the nation's three lowest ERAs in consecutive games, having beaten Hofstra's Olivia Galati last weekend, then lost to Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts on Thursday. One reason for their confidence? Fourth on that same list is USF sophomore Sara Nevins, who takes the mound today against an LSU lineup that ranked 267th out of 283 teams in Division I with a team batting average of just .221; they also ranked 262nd with 13 total home runs, and 218th in scoring.
LSU is especially familiar for USF senior Jessica Mouse, who was a three-year starter for the Tigers before missing last season with a foot injury and opting to transfer to USF for her final college season. She's remained close friends with her former teammates, but said it shouldn't distract her from the team's goal of extending its season as long as possible.
The Bulls are enjoying their first trip to Oklahoma City, knowing the experience will forever reset the bar for what constitutes success for the team. In one week, they go from a program that's never been here, to one that wants to come back for more every year.
"We've got mint chocolate chip ice cream on the tongue right now," Eriksen said. "Everybody likes mint chocolate chip ice cream. They don't like the other flavors as much. When you get that flavor, you aspire to have that every single time. They also know to get that flavor, it's a lot of hard work."