As early as Sunday, USF softball coach Ken Eriksen could step into his profession’s most rarefied circle.
The university’s 60-year-old stick-and-ball savant enters this weekend’s four-game series at Wichita State four victories shy of 1,000 for his career. If he doesn’t reach the milestone by Sunday (Wichita State is 32-5-1), he’s likely to hit the millennial mark in a four-game home series against East Carolina the following weekend.
Whenever he gets there, he’ll find a sparsely populated stratosphere.
Eriksen — a USF alumnus and coach of the U.S. Olympic team set to play in Tokyo later this year — will become only the 25th Division I-A softball coach to reach 1,000 victories, and only the second from a Florida school, according to NCAA records. Coach JoAnne Graf, who won 1,186 fastpitch games in a 25-season career with Florida State (1984-2008), leads the state.
In recognition of this looming achievement, we reflect on some of the biggest wins of Eriksen’s 23-plus seasons. (Note: Because of his duties with the national team, Eriksen didn’t coach the Bulls during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.)
Feb. 16, 1997: USF 3, Stetson 1 (Deland)
Considering Eriksen almost lost consciousness at the end of this extra-innings contest, his first as Bulls coach, it’s amazing he remembers any details at all. “Their dugouts were really small, 6-foot clearance,” he said. When eventual USF hall of famer Monica Triner struck out the game’s final batter, Eriksen jumped in exhilaration and nearly knocked himself out.
May 21, 2006: USF 7, Florida Atlantic 4 (Gainesville)
Late-May humidity notwithstanding, the Bulls made Eriksen sweat a bit before clinching the first NCAA super region berth in program history. Having managed only eight runs in the five previous games, the Bulls built a 7-0 lead after five innings before FAU responded with four runs in the bottom of the seventh. Right-hander Cristi Ecks, who worked the final 4⅓ innings to notch the historic win, delivered a strikeout to end things. Eriksen also lauded lefty Kasey Cash, who entered to face two left-handed batters with runners on second and third and no outs in the third, and struck out both.
April 22, 2007: USF 3, Notre Dame 1 (South Bend, Ind.)
The Bulls earned two 3-1 victories against the Irish in this critical Sunday afternoon Big East doubleheader, the latter of which gave Eriksen his 500th career triumph. USF scored all three of its runs with a two-out rally in the fifth, capped by East Bay High alumnus Danielle Urbanik’s RBI single to leftfield. At that point, Eriksen had nearly twice as many victories (500) as defeats (260).
March 11, 2012: USF 2, Toledo 0 (Tampa)
Though records are a tad sketchy, this is believed to be the first seven-inning perfect game in Bulls fastpitch history. Less than 24 hours after tossing a six-inning no-hitter against Central Connecticut, rangy left-hander Sara Nevins — a Pinellas Park alumnus — struck out 14 of the 21 Rockets batters she faced and allowed no ball out of the infield. Nevins exited USF with no fewer than eight major school pitching records including strikeouts (1,103), and was inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame in 2019.
May 26, 2012: USF 2, Hofstra 1 (Tampa)
On a muggy Memorial Day weekend, the Bulls and Pride staged arguably the 27 most intense innings in USF Softball Stadium history in this best-of-three NCAA super regional. Hofstra won the Friday night opener in 11 innings, followed by a nine-inning Bulls triumph in Saturday’s first game, setting up the rubber match with a Women’s College World Series berth at stake. Chamberlain High alumnus Stephanie Medina drove in the go-ahead run with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly, and Nevins worked the final 5⅔ innings, retiring the last seven batters to extend the Bulls’ surreal season. Nevins’ final pitch, resulting in a routine grounder to third fielded by another Chamberlain alum (Jessica Mouse), was her 171st of the day.
April 23, 2013: USF 6, Seton Hall 3 (South Orange, N.J.)
An otherwise nondescript Tuesday afternoon game, highlighted by Nevins’ 11 strikeouts and Kenshyra Jackson’s three-run home run, gave Eriksen career victory No. 732 — most of any Bulls coach in any sport. The win put Eriksen past former baseball coach Eddie Cardieri, who won 731 games in 21 seasons. Eriksen and his team didn’t linger to celebrate; the official box score listed the weather simply as “awful.”
April 8, 2017: USF 7, East Carolina 6 (Tampa)
Arguably the most poignant triumph of the Eriksen tenure. A year after doctors found a large tumor in her pelvic area, Bulls infielder Meredith Bissette returned to the USF dugout — and lineup card. Eriksen penciled in Bissette as his designated player for this Saturday afternoon game against ECU, inserting a substitute just prior to her first at-bat. Bissette, who hadn’t suited up since March 26, 2016, received a standing ovation upon being replaced.
As if to further honor their teammate, the Bulls rallied from a four-run deficit capped by Morgan Gross’ three-run home run in the sixth inning. These days, Bissette’s medical challenges persist. She had just been accepted to Duke University’s accelerated nursing program last fall when she was diagnosed with an extremely rare medical condition that caused bacterial meningitis. Now 25, she’s currently recovering from numerous surgeries at her home outside Raleigh, N.C.
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