TAMPA — The University of South Florida Bulls, finishing this season with a flourish, would love to capture the inaugural American Athletic Conference softball tournament, which begins today in Houston.
But the No. 2-seeded Bulls (40-14), who open against No. 7 Memphis (23-32), know this weekend’s event is just another stop toward the program’s ultimate goal.
“I really want to go back to the World Series,’’ said USF senior outfielder Ashli Goff, referring to the Bulls’ appearance in the 2012 Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. “Every game, every at-bat, I’m thinking about something I can do to help the team reach that goal.
“I think this is the most talented team we’ve had here. Now it’s just up to us to put it together at the right time.’’
USF, which has won its past nine AAC games and 10 of its past 11 overall, is excited about the locale.
After dropping two out of three during a home series with UCF, the Bulls headed to Houston at midseason. At the time, the Cougars were AAC leaders. USF swept the three-game series.
“It’s always good to go back to a place where you’ve had success,’’ USF coach Ken Eriksen said. “It’s like eating at a great restaurant. The memories and vibes are just good.
“I thought we had played well against UCF the weekend before. We just hit a lot of balls right at people. Same thing happened against Louisville. We didn’t change anything. We haven’t changed since Day One. The balls started falling. We ran into some bad luck for six or seven games in a row, but then it turned around.’’
USF will utilize its familiar formula — pitching and defense. Senior left-hander Sara Nevins is the AAC’s most compelling force. But during USF’s previous trip to Houston, everything clicked.
“That series has passed and gone, but for whatever reason, we had such amazing energy there, the best we had all season,’’ USF senior shortstop Kourtney Salvarola said. “I think at that time we realized how good this group was. We were trying to prove how good we could be and it all came together. That’s the kind of mindset we need right now because this is where it really counts.’’
Nevins honored again
Nevins was named AAC pitcher of the year Wednesday, while freshman center fielder Juli Weber was selected rookie of the year. They joined four other teammates in giving the Bulls a league-best six members on the All-AAC first team.
Nevins, Big East pitcher of the year last season, ranks in the top 10 nationally with a 1.21 ERA, 264 strikeouts and 26 wins, while batters are hitting just .138 against her. Nevins has four no-hitters this season, including her second career perfect game.
Weber batted .346 with 21 RBIs, while registering a .935 fielding percentage in 44 games.
Other USF first-team All-AAC members were senior first baseman Stephanie Medina (.355, 36 RBIs); senior shortstop Kourtney Salvarola (.350, 14 home runs); senior outfielder Ashli Goff (.385, 16 stolen bases); and sophomore catcher Lee Ann Spivey (.280, 29 RBIs).
UCF pitcher Mackenzie Audas, the Tribune’s 2011 softball player of the year from Plant City High, was named second-team All-AAC.