Monday, November 20, 2017
Colleges

Short memory serves USF softball team well

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TAMPA

Odds are, the momentum cultivated by the USF softball team over the past month didn't evaporate with one sloppy Sunday afternoon loss.

To the contrary, if their mojo operandi holds up, the Bulls (31-10), 23rd in the latest ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, will enter this afternoon's home doubleheader against Bethune-Cookman long on resolve and short on memory.

"Heck, man, we're doing all right," coach Ken Eriksen said aftger Sunday's 5-2 loss to Houston, which snapped the nation's longest win streak at 23 games. "I got a feeling they're chomping at the bit right now."

Amnesia, as much as stabilized pitching and timely offense, has resuscitated a season that began so bleakly. Early lopsided defeats to Michigan, Auburn and Florida — currently ranked first, second and third, respectively — could have shattered the Bulls' collective confidence.

They opted to shatter any recollection of them instead. "We don't let anything faze us anymore," leadoff hitter and Plant City High alumnus Kristen Wyckoff said recently.

Consider the resolve. On March 5, the day the streak was spawned, Illinois used a couple of walks and some critical hits to take a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning. Two innings later, Wyckoff smacked a two-out, RBI-single in a 5-4 walk-off win.

In a March 22 home game against Northwestern, the Wildcats tied the score on a home run in the top of the seventh before Bulls junior Juli Weber hit a two-out double in the bottom of the inning — scoring Wyckoff from first — in a 3-2 triumph.

In Saturday's 6-3 win against Houston, the Cougars scored two in the first, only to be trumped by the Bulls' four in the bottom of the inning.

"I've coached for a long time and this team has no memory," Eriksen said after that Northwestern triumph. "They don't have an immediate memory, they don't have a long-term memory, and that's pretty special."

That blend of forgetfulness and fortitude extends to the circle. Only four times in USF's first 17 games did the Bulls allow two or fewer earned runs and two or fewer walks. During their win streak, which included five games against Power Five opposition, they did it 16.

It was only four years ago when Eriksen oversaw a similar concoction of sturdy pitching, clutch hits and selective memory loss. It parlayed into the program's only College World Series berth.

Who can forget that?

OFFENSE AHEAD, FOR NOW: If Saturday's situational scrimmage (three long touchdown passes, one 96-yard TD drive) was any sign, the Bulls' offense has found its groove while the defense is still finding its bearings.

Stands to reason. While the offense has three new assistants to the defense's one, it still has the architect of its system (Willie Taggart) in place. By contrast, the installer of the 4-2-5 "Bull Shark" defense, Tom Allen, is gone.

While Allen's replacement, Raymond Woodie, is a veteran of Taggart's staff with six years of Division I coaching experience, this is his first college coordinator's gig. Additionally, new safeties coach John Jancek — coordinator at Tennessee the previous three years — didn't join the staff until February.

"We still have the same system but … the new coaches coming in, they've got to learn the system," MLB Auggie Sanchez said after Saturday's scrimmage. "So now they're like what we were as players last year, they've got to learn it while we kind of know it."

ODDS AND ENDS: The baseball team will hold its annual "Vs. Cancer" fundraiser game Sunday at noon against Memphis. The Bulls players and staff, who raised more than $16,000 last season for the Vs. Cancer Foundation and Tampa General Hospital, will have their heads shaved after the contest. … USF senior Matthew O'Neal broke his own school triple jump record (indoor or outdoor) with an effort of 54 feet, 10.75 inches Friday at the Texas Relays. It easily eclipsed his previous best outdoor mark (53-8.75) set at the same event in 2015. … Among the litany of Final Four auxiliary events was Friday's American Family Insurance High School Slam Dunk Contest, won by 6-foot-8 USF signee Troy Baxter.

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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