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Bereft of stars, USF softball excelling by committee

The Bulls have no player leading the American Athletic Conference in a significant offensive or pitching category
USF freshman right-hander Georgina Corrick tossed a four-hitter in the Bulls' 3-1 win against Wichita State on Sunday in Tampa. [Photo by Travis Pendergrass]
USF freshman right-hander Georgina Corrick tossed a four-hitter in the Bulls' 3-1 win against Wichita State on Sunday in Tampa. [Photo by Travis Pendergrass]
Published May 9, 2018
Updated May 9, 2018

TAMPA — He hasn't collected 932 career victories via diplomacy. More often than not, USF softball coach Ken Eriksen's assessments can be more blunt than the sweet spot of a Louisville Slugger.

He affords no exception to his current club, which claimed the American Athletic Conference's regular-season title without an All-America candidate or even a bona fide ace.

"It's been a ham-and-egg job all year long for us," Eriksen said Tuesday. "We're really not that good, I'm telling you right now. We're not that good offensively, we're not that good defensively."

All of which goes to validate the notion that chemistry and resilience and scrappiness can compensate for a lack of star power.

The Bulls (36-20, 14-7) have no player leading the conference in a major offensive or pitching category. Its ace, per se, freshman Georgina Corrick, has worked fewer innings (154.1) than any of the conference's other No. 1 pitchers.

One of its best power hitters, Strawberry Crest alumnus Mia Fung (.282, eight home runs), is out with what is feared to be her second ACL injury in as many seasons. Fact is, one must backtrack to early March to find the lineup completely healthy.

"We actually have to sign up for times (in the training room) because it gets so crowded," said senior first baseman Lauren Evans, one of the Bulls' five first-team all-conference picks.

Yet here they are, the No. 1 seed in this weekend's AAC tournament on their home field, and in solid position to clinch the 13th NCAA Tournament berth of Eriksen's 22 seasons.

Related: USF's Ken Eriksen earns 900th victory

"We don't have any superstars," Eriksen said. "But people coming off the bench doing their job, doing something, that's been fun to watch."

Perhaps no point in the season illustrates the Bulls' ensemble-type philosophy more than a two-day tournament in early March. With Corrick (13-6, 1.63 ERA) sidelined by a nagging shoulder injury, the Bulls won four games with four different winning pitchers, practically unheard of at any fastpitch level.

Fast forward to last weekend, a three-game series against Wichita State. The Bulls entered with a one-game lead in the AAC standings against the Shockers, but lost Friday's opener.

They responded with a 6-1 triumph Saturday, getting five hits from five different players and a steal of home by a seldom-used backup (freshman Jasmine Haynes). They then survived a four-hour rain delay for a 3-1 victory Sunday, when Corrick — named the AAC's Co-Pitcher of the Year on Wednesday — tossed a four-hitter.

"Our guys understand this is a team situation and they're ready to go," Eriksen said. "And it's nice. It's like having a basketball team with 18. Everybody's ready."

American Athletic Conference tournament
Where/when: USF Softball Stadium, today-Saturday
Schedule: Thursday — No. 6 Tulsa vs. No. 3 Wichita State, 10 a.m.; No. 7 East Carolina vs. No. 2 Houston, 12:30; No. 5 Memphis vs. No. 4 UCF, 4; No. 8 Connecticut vs. No. 1 USF, 6:30; Friday — Tulsa/Wichita State winner vs. East Carolina/Houston winner, 2 p.m.; Memphis/UCF winner vs. Connecticut/USF winner, 4:30; Saturday — Championship, noon
TV: Games Thursday and Friday live-streamed on American Digital Network; championship on ESPN2

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