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Eriksen takes unconventional approach with USF softball

 
Ken Eriksen's USF squad has only seven complete games this season, equal to or fewer than the total amassed by six American Athletic Conference pitchers. Yet the Bulls' ERA (2.19) entering Wednesday's game at top-ranked Florida is 20th nationally. [Times files (2012)]
Ken Eriksen's USF squad has only seven complete games this season, equal to or fewer than the total amassed by six American Athletic Conference pitchers. Yet the Bulls' ERA (2.19) entering Wednesday's game at top-ranked Florida is 20th nationally. [Times files (2012)]
Published April 15, 2015

TAMPA

The common presumption is, USF's resident softball savant is out-thinking himself again. What other coach worth his sunscreen employs a full-fledged pitching staff — closer included — more befitting baseball?

Clearly, Ken Eriksen again is thinking outside the circle, some suggest. Or is he?

Laud or lament Eriksen's use of three starters — sometimes four — in the wake of three-time All-American Sara Nevins' graduation. Bottom line is, the Bulls' veteran coach hardly is blazing new ground in this season of transition. To the contrary, he's traversing a familiar footpath.

"We started (a pitching rotation) in 1997," he said.

Eighteen years later, it remains as effective as it is rarefied.

USF (32-12) has only seven complete games this season, equal to or fewer than the total amassed by six American Athletic Conference pitchers. Yet the Bulls' ERA (2.19) entering tonight's game at top-ranked Florida (per the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll) is 20th nationally.

And its winning percentage (.727) is higher than it was through 44 games last season (.705), when Nevins was establishing program records for career victories (101) and strikeouts (1,103).

"We're one of the few teams ever to go and say, 'You know what, we don't ride one (pitcher),' " Eriksen said.

"And people will say, 'There was Sara Nevins.' Well you know what, you had Sam Greiner and you had Lindsey Richardson and it was inter-changing and this and that. Sara might have been on the mound in some of the crucial aspects … but it was a staff. We've never wavered from that."

Tonight in Gainesville, the Gators are as likely to see Greiner (8-4, 2.93 ERA) as they are Susan Wysocki (8-1, 1.48) or Erica Nunn (9-5, 1.72), the staff's lone left-hander. If another save situation arises — UF scored eight seventh-inning runs in a 10-5 win at USF in early February — look for Eriksen to summon senior Karla Claudio (7-2, 2.57), who has since emerged as the closer.

Claudio's seven saves lead the nation. No other AAC pitcher has more than four.

"I think it's working really well for us because the opposing team is seeing four different pitchers throughout the game and that keeps them off balance," sophomore 2B Kristen Wyckoff said. "They don't know what's coming at them."

Deep into the second decade of the Eriksen era, perhaps they should.

YEAR OF THE BULL? Among the litany of ridiculously early 2015-16 preseason basketball polls is one from ESPN women's bracketologist Charlie Creme, who has USF 21st. The Bulls return every significant contributor from this past season's 27-8 club except senior 3-point specialist Tamara Taylor.

"The best news of all is that All-American candidate Courtney Williams is back for her senior season," Creme writes. "... while classmate Alisia Jenkins was the league's top rebounder."

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ODDS AND ENDS: Wyckoff, a Plant City High alumnus who hit her league-leading fifth triple in the Bulls' 6-0 rout of Florida Gulf Coast last week, made the AAC weekly softball honor roll. ... Bulls triple-jump extraordinaire Matthew O'Neal nearly notched a 55-foot effort — which would've shattered his own school record by more than a foot — at Saturday's South Florida triangular, but scratched by the length of his big toe. CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein reports former Bulls PG Anthony Collins, whose departure was announced in late March, is visiting Baylor this weekend.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.