Insider: USF Faces Potent Sooner Offense In World Series

What: Double-elimination bracket, following a best-of-three series for final eight teams

When:Thursday 1 p.m.

Where: ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma City

Media/TV: ESPN

Fresh off of the Bulls’ flight to Oklahoma City, USF Coach Ken Eriksen said he had the best sleep he has had in weeks, especially after the whirlwind past few days it has been for the USF softball team, who are not too far removed from their two Super Regional victories over Hofstra in Tampa.

“The flight was phenomenal and relaxing,” Eriksen said. “Honestly, I heard “take off” and then heard “would you please put your seats in the up-right position,” he added. “It was the only time I got to sleep all week.”

Most of the players were sleeping on the two and a half hour charter flight to Oklahoma City too.

“We actually got the luxury of chartering,” senior 3B Jessica Mouse said. “It was only two-hours and 20 minutes to OKC and it was really smooth.”

The Bulls haven’t had to travel much in the first two rounds in the NCAA Tournament. First, in the Regionals in Gainesville. Then, they were able to stay in their own backyard for the Super Regionals.

Even after a drawn out series with Hofstra, USF kept a business-like approach prior to their flight to OKC with an 8 a.m. practice on Tuesday at the USF fields.

USF went toe-to-toe with Hofstra and anyone on the team would be tired, the Bulls were challenged by the Pride last week in a defensive best of three series that saw USF victorious in two straight 2-1 wins to clinch a program first World Series berth.

“You’re still on such an emotional high that there’s not much that is going to take away from the euphoria that you are experiencing and the euphoria of continuing to keep playing,” Eriksen said. “There are only eight teams left in the country right now playing out of around three-hundred.”

The Bulls are set to open play in their first Women’s College World Series appearance today against Oklahoma, a softball powerhouse that is in its seventh World Series appearance in school history.

USF faces a team with a 5-0 record, and the Sooners have not lost by less than six runs. Oklahoma is arguably the hottest softball team in the nation.

The Bulls/Sooners match-up is an intriguing one. Oklahoma is an offensive powerhouse, that has scored an average of 6.6 runs per game compared to USF’s 4.

Scoring runs is ultimately what has gotten the Sooners into the World Series this season. Oppositely, the Bulls’ World Series’ path has been paved purely because of excellent defense and pitching, lead by Sara Nevins.

Both USF and Oklahoma rank in the top of the country in earned runs average. The Sooners are first in the nation in this category (1.15) while the Bulls are second place (1.18) in the country.

What is going to give though? Will the offense that Oklahoma showcased in a 7-1 dismantling of Arizona prevail or will the stingy USF defense be victorious?

The potent Sooner offense could pose a problem for the Bulls, who haven’t gotten a flurry of home runs in the NCAA tournament as their opponent has.

Oklahoma freshman phenom Lauren Chamberlain ranks second in the nation with 27 home runs.

Don’t forget about Keilani Ricketts either. Ricketts is touted as one of the top two way players in the nation, she most recently was named the USA Softball Player of the Year. She currently ranks 11th in the country with on-base percentage of .558 and 13th with an .841 slugging percentage.

Her performance in the circle leads the nation too. She ranks third in the nation with an  ERA of 0.99 and third in the country with 393 strikeouts this season.

A concern for the Bulls will be their lack in power. They have just 85 extra base hits in 60 games played this season, and USF has only scored 27 home runs. The Sooners have scored more home runs than the Bulls have extra base hits.

USF’s advantage thought is their team speed, and that’s evident in their base stealing capabilities this season.

Ask Eriksen if the Bulls can play any better than they have already this season, and his answer is a resounding yes.

“I think we can play better softball,” Eriksen said. “I think we can start to perfect some of the approaches to the plate a little bit better , I think we can perfect some footwork things in the in-field a little bit better.”

Think USF might be feeling the pressures of appearing in their first World Series appearance or about the opponent they are facing? Think again.

Coach Eriksen has maintained his have fun approach, even this far into the season.

He did the what he coined the “monster dance,” accompanied by laughs and his own made up dance moves.

“You gotta keep it light, you really gotta keep it light,” Eriksen laughed.

Eriksen won’t change his approach even as the stakes get higher.

“I think young people in general need a positive influence and they don’t need to be yelled and screamed at to get the best out of them,” he said. “The old adage that women have to feel good to play good is a big deal.”

ANOTHER NEVINS HONOR

Bulls ace Sara Nevins was named to 2012 D-All American second  team by National Fast pitch Coaches Association today. This honor is no surprise for the sophomore, who has appeared in all of USF’s games this season, boasting top national numbers.

Nevins has a 31-6 record this season and has the fourth lowest earned run average in the nation at 1.03, with a .079 ERA in the NCAA Tournament.

The winner of the USF/Oklahoma bracket will face the winner of the LSU/California bracket.

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