TAMPA, Fla. - The USF softball team has punched its ticket to the Women's College World Series for the first time in program history. The Bulls beat Hofstra 2-1 in both games of the Super Regional doubleheader on Saturday to become one of eight teams to play in the WCWS in Oklahoma City, Okla., on May 31 - June 6.
USF head coach Ken Eriksen looked upbeat despite his team losing the NCAA Super Regional opener against Hofstra late Friday night.
"This nice part about it is we have one day left in this tournament. This nice part is you come out, you get hot, you let it roll and the day is over," he told reporters after a 2-1 defeat in 11 innings.
Eriksen had the same smile on his face Saturday night after USF won its second straight game of the day. The second victory sent the Bulls to their first-ever Women's College World Series that will begin Thursday in Oklahoma City.
"When you win in the locker room you have a chance to win on the field. We did that this year," Eriksen said. "... It's a big deal for our fans. It's a big deal for our athletic program. It's a big deal for our student-athletes. It's a big deal for our university in general."
Excitement for the fans started to really grow in the fifth inning of the series finale with the game tied at 1 and USF coming up to bat in the top half of the frame.
Gina Kafalas started with a single up the middle and made it to second on a sacrifice by Jessica Mouse. Kafalas jetted over to third on a wild pitch by Hoftra ace Oliva Galati, who threw all 27 innings of the series. Kafalas made it home for what would be the decisive run when Stephanie Medina lifted a 1-2 pitch for a sacrifice fly to left field.
"We kept playing, we didn't give up and we didn't let down. Our focus was there 100 percent of the time," Medina said.
Right-hander Lindsey Richardson started the game for the Bulls by pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings and Sara Nevins pitched like the ace she is after Hofstra tied the game in the second inning on a wild pitch. Nevins (31-5) picked up her second win of the day by giving up just three hits in the final 5 2/3 innings.
Nevins also got a lot of help from her defense with Mouse turning a double play with the initial out at third in the third inning, two frames after the senior made a diving catch to save a run in the first. USF had a 1-0 lead at that point after Kenshyra Jackson worked a bases-loaded walk.
The fans' excitement reached its pinnacle in the bottom of the seventh with USF needing three outs to lock the series up. Hofstra's Rachael Senatore grounded out. Nevins struck out her sixth batter of the game when she got Becca Bigler swinging for the second out and Eriksen took a walk to the mound.
"He said make sure you stay calm and feed the Mouse," Nevins remembered.
Nevins faced a 2-2 count against Galati when the cutter she threw was hit right at Mouse at third.
"I knew she was going to pull the ball to me because she had hit a few down the line already," Mouse explained. "Sara had been throwing great all game. She threw it inside and jammed her up a little bit, so she gave me an easier ground ball."
Mouse easily fielding the grounder and threw the ball with ease to Medina, who stepped on first base for the historic out that ended the game and sent a home crowd of 1,544 to its feet.
"I threw the ball to Steph and tears of happiness just came," Mouse said.
Galati had a 32-game winning streak going until USF beat her in Saturday's doubleheader opener after the right-hander gave up just a run in game 1 of the series on Friday.
The Bulls' belief in themselves was still there after Friday's loss and never wavered through 16 innings on Saturday.
"Even after the loss we didn't get down on ourselves," Medina said. "We kept pushing."
Courtesy of USF Athletics.