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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
USF Bulls

Salvarola leads USF’s unlikely power surge

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The University of South Florida softball program will rely on its usual strengths at the NCAA tournament — pitching, defense, timely hitting and … power?

The Bulls (43-14), who face Georgia Southern (32-28) in today’s opening round of the Gainesville regional at the University of Florida, are four home runs away from matching the program’s single-season record of 48 in 2005. But that’s not a conscious goal. It just happens, a byproduct of preparation, timing and skill.

That’s the approach of junior shortstop Kourtney Salvarola, who never considered herself a power hitter. But this season, she obliterated the offensive scorebook, leading USF in home runs (13) and RBIs (42), along with batting average (.346), runs (38), hits (55) and slugging percentage (.667).

That includes a three-homer game against Rutgers on March 24 — capped by a ninth-inning walk-off shot. Salvarola hit three homers all of last season.

“To be honest, I’m surprised when I hit them,’’ said Salvarola, whose team has 41 homers in its past 41 games. “Sometimes, you don’t really feel them hit the bat. You never go up there trying to do it.

“I just happen to square them up and that’s happening a lot more now. I’m working on keeping things simple and everything is working well. I’ve never really been the home-run type.”

She was against Rutgers.

After the walk-off, her third homer of the afternoon, Salvarola remembers rounding second base and seeing her father and a family friend in the pavilion beyond left field. They were high-fiving and celebrating.

“It kind of dawned on me, ‘Wait, I just hit three home runs,’” Salvarola said. “To see them so happy, it’s just a memory I’ll always have.’’

“We were all on a crazy adrenaline rush that day,’’ USF third baseman Kenshyra Jackson said. “We were saying, ‘Every time Kourtney comes up, it’s going out.’ And that’s actually what happened.”

Salvarola’s defense and bat control were distinguishing factors in her first two seasons. Now she’s a complete player — with a tough-minded mental approach.

It’s why USF coach Ken Eriksen said he believes Salvarola will be a long-time force for USA Softball’s international efforts.

“She still has a long way to go, but she’s moving in the right direction,” Eriksen said. “That’s all you can ask from a young player. She’s only 21. We’re in the minor leagues. Team USA is the big leagues. But she’s on her way.”

“I’m still learning,” Salvarola said. “I’m growing up. I don’t let things bother me as much from at-bat to at-bat. I do overanalyze everything. If I strike out, I want to know why I struck out. I do want to play for many years to come, so I guess you could say I’m still in my little-girl phase.’’

While Salvarola is still learning her softball lessons, it’s clear she was born to be a teacher. An education major, she spent two days a week this spring interning in a fourth-grade classroom.

“I’ve had teachers who really made a difference for me,’’ Salvarola said. “I loved the way they impacted my life. I just wanted to be that person for someone. I guess I just want to reach kids somehow.”

A few weeks ago, Salvarola wanted the group to work on math problems. But a few were singing a rap song by Rick Ross.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to rap with them,’” Salvarola said. “I joined in on the next verse and they were just blown away that I knew it. They said, ‘You know Rick Ross?’

“My kids think because I’m in college that I’m so much older than them and don’t know their music, like I’m an alien or something. So, I started bringing in a new Rick Ross song after that. It gets them to buy in. Then they want to learn. That’s really cool when you see that. It’s hard to put that into words.”

Here’s a word that might apply.

Powerful.

Salvarola has learned the concept.


jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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