NORMAN, Okla. — Having thrown batting practice to all of USF's softball players Friday afternoon, assistant coach Monica Triner looked to the plate, eyed the next batter, smiled and knocked the protective screen in front of her to the ground as if she didn't need it.
At Oklahoma's Marita Hynes Field, the Bulls closed their final practice before today's College World Series game against LSU on a lighthearted note, allowing the managers, trainers and staff to take swings.
Bulls coach Ken Eriksen finished the session with a home run to rightfield.
The message: When you've played long enough to be alive in June, keeping a positive attitude is as important as brushing up on fundamentals.
"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 today in an elimination game in Oklahoma City.
USF had Friday off after losing in its College World Series debut, 5-1 to Oklahoma on Thursday. The Bulls led 1-0 in the fourth before giving up a two-run homer to All-American Lauren Chamberlain.
LSU and USF are the only unseeded teams in the World Series. If the Bulls win, they face the loser of Friday's late game between Oklahoma and California in another elimination game at 7 tonight.
"We said in regionals that we're in it for the long haul. I don't think we're done yet," USF 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."
Sophomore and former Pinellas Park High standout Sara Nevins takes the mound today against an LSU lineup far less imposing than Oklahoma. The Tigers entered the CWS 267th among 283 Division I teams with a .221 batting average, 262nd with 13 home runs and 218th at 3.3 runs per game. The Sooners were eighth (.321), first (95) and ninth (6.6), respectively.
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 transferring. She remains close friends with her former teammates but said it shouldn't distract her.
The Bulls are enjoying their first trip to Oklahoma City, knowing the experience resets the bar for what constitutes success. In one week, they go from a program that had never been here to one that wants to return 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."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com.