It's only fitting that twin sisters Ashli and Courtney Goff follow each other at the bottom of the USF softball batting order. The juniors are nearly inseparable, rarely seen farther apart than when Ashli is in rightfield and Courtney in left.
The graduates of Tampa's Sickles High were twin sparks in USF's Big East championship win against Notre Dame on Saturday. And as the Bulls begin another postseason run today in Gainesville, hoping to return to the College World Series, the sisters are as close as their jersey numbers, 1 (Courtney) and 2 (Ashli).
"We've always played on the same teams together. It's kind of like having a best friend with me all the time," Courtney said before today's start of the NCAA region tournament.
Against Notre Dame, Courtney had the game's first hit, in the third inning (stealing second for the Bulls' first threat), and Ashli brought in the game's only run, in the 10th, with a single off the pitcher's leg. Ashli also threw out a batter at first on a would-be single in the 10th.
At 5 feet 3, they're among the shortest Bulls — freshman Mo Santos is 4-10 — and among the fastest. Ashli leads the team with 11 steals, and Courtney has 10. Ashli's a third-year starter while Courtney has started 28 games this year after working primarily as a pinch-runner last season — finishing with more runs (19) than at-bats (14). Ashli said their jersey numbers got their origin from their relative size.
"The smaller numbers were the smaller people, so it went by sizes," said Ashli, who said the only time the sisters haven't played together was a single season of basketball Courtney played alone. "We always got stuck with those numbers, and it kind of stuck."
USF coach Ken Eriksen likes the toughness of the Goffs. As much as they sparked Saturday's win, he points to a 3-2 victory against Illinois on March 1 that helped turn the season around. USF was 6-10 and trailing 1-0 in the fifth when Ashli hit a three-run homer. Courtney had two of the six hits for the Bulls, who since then are 37-4, second best in Division I.
"Those kids are tough. They have no fear of anything. It's obvious," Eriksen said. "Two outs, first and second, you tell her to swing away. And Ashli hits a bullet over the right-centerfield fence. You think, 'Wow! That could be the spark.' Little did I know we'd win 37 of the next 41."
The twins knew they'd play together in college. They committed as juniors to USF — where their father and uncle attended — wanting to stay close to home so family and friends could watch them play. At a given game, they will have parents Cameron and Kelli, both sets of grandparents and plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins. All will make the trip to Gainesville this weekend.
It's hard to tell the 21-year-olds apart, but they have subtle differences. Ashli, who is 15 minutes older, jokes she's meaner; Courtney reluctantly says she might be slightly nicer, if less outspoken. Ashli majors in health sciences with plans of working in occupational therapy; Courtney majors in elementary education.
"We've always done everything together. We've grown up together," Courtney said. "We talk about how weird it's going to be whenever we actually get our own jobs and have our own lives. I can't imagine how it would be if I were at a different school."