Howell gem helps softball win sixth straight
Freshman Candace Howell took a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning Friday against Massachusetts, and senior Cristi Ecks got the final two outs for a 1-0 win at the Under Armour Showcase tournament in Clearwater, USF's sixth victory in a row.
Ecks became USF's career saves leader with her 16th save, clinching the second win of the day for the Bulls (21-10), who rallied past Loyola Marymount 8-7 in eight innings earlier Saturday.
Senior Bree Spence got the win in relief against Loyola, giving up just two hits in 3.1 innings. Cat Olnick and JoJo Medina had two hits and two RBIs each for USF. Medina tied the game with an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh, and USF won in the eighth when pinch-runner Lauren Rodriguez scored on a Britta Giddens sacrifice fly.
The Bulls continue a busy weekend with games Saturday against Central Michigan and George Washington.
-- More bubble-watching for USF women's basketball: The good news Friday was that Kansas lost to No. 3 Oklahoma in the Big 12 quarterfinals, effectively taking the Jayhawks (18-13) out of contention for an at-large berth. The last major-conference threat to take an unexpected at-large berth is in the Pac-10, where UCLA or USC could steal a spot, but they'll have to get past top seeded Stanford and Cal in today's semifinals.
Friday's only potential trouble might not even a problem anymore -- Illinois State, the top seed in the Missouri Valley, started Friday one spot ahead of USF in the RPI ratings. But Illinois State lost, making them a contender for an at-large berth. The loss was to Evansville (13-18), which had an RPI of 188 -- its worst loss of the season, which dropped them to 49 in the RPI and bumped USF back up to 45. Illinois State (24-7) has a better record than USF, but they only played two games against RPI top 50 teams, beating Wisconsin-Green Bay (RPI 42). USF, by comparison played 11 top-50 games and won six. Illinois State has five losses to teams out of the top 100 -- USF, by comparison, has none. So it's hard to imagine the selection committee giving Illinois State an at-large at USF's expense.
What to watch for Saturday? The Mountain West tournament has worked out ideally for USF, with top seeded Utah and San Diego State advancing to today's final. A week ago, projections had three or four MWC teams making the NCAA cut, but if San Diego State wins today, they might be the only team -- the potential at-larges are TCU (20-10, RPI 46), Utah (21-9, RPI 56), but both could miss the cut.
USF wants VCU to advance in today's Colonial semifinals and wants Bowling Green to advance in the Mid-American semis. Beyond that, the next hurdle is Sunday's Horizon final, where USF wants Wisconsin-Green Bay to take the automatic bid. Again, the week has gone nearly ideally for USF, making a precarious perch on the bubble look much better ...