USF softball opens Big East tourney vs. DePaul

USF softball opens play in the Big East tournament at Notre Dame on Thursday morning, with the fourth-seeded Bulls taking on fifth-seeded DePaul with a 10 a.m. first pitch. (Watch the game live here.)

The Bulls (45-10) are certainly assured of a spot in NCAA regionals for the first time since 2008, but USF has lost some momentum in recent weeks, going 5-5 in their final 10 Big East games after a 12-0 start. The Bulls totaled one run in their final four conference losses, including a two-hit shutout and a no-hitter at the hands of Syracuse.

Those late losses took USF from the conference lead to the fourth seed, giving them a tougher initial opponent in DePaul, which has an RPI of 28, just nine spots behind the Bulls. USF didn't play DePaul or Notre Dame in the regular season and wound up 1-4 against Louisville and Syracuse, so their 17-5 conference record includes a 16-1 mark against the bottom eight teams in the league.

The Bulls finished the regular season with the Big East's lowest staff ERA at 1.30, a full run better than DePaul's at 2.33, and today's game, barring surprises, should pit two of the league's top pitchers. DePaul's Kristin Verdun, a unanimous first-team selection for her bat and arm, went 12-6 with a 1.56 ERA in conference games, with 132 strikeouts in 121 innings; USF's Sara Nevins, relegated to the second team despite leading the nation in ERA much of the year, went 12-2 with a 1.63 ERA in the Big East, striking out 117 in 85.

Today's winner will face the winner of top-seeded Louisville and eighth-seeded Connecticut on Friday.

-- Shortstop Kourtney Salvarola was the only USF player named to the All-Big East first team announced Wednesday night, with three players -- Nevins, outfielder Janine Richardson and first baseman Stephanie Medina -- named to the second team.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 10, 2012 10:18am]

    

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