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USF Softball Heads To Clearwater For NFCA Lead-Off Classic Tournament

The USF Bulls, 6-3, head over to Clearwater to take part in the NFCA Lead-Off Classic Tournament, where they will play five games in three days.

The South Florida Bulls softball teams is hosting another weekend tournament, this time at the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater. After a somewhat disappointing 3-2 showing at their 4 Team Tournament, the Bulls will try and rack up some more non-conference wins this weekend against somewhat easier competition. (There are more teams in this tournament than USF will actually play, including Big East rival DePaul and Michigan, who USF played in the first week of the season.)

Friday's Games

USF starts out at 3:30 this afternoon against Southern Illinois (4-6). Their top hitter is junior lefty infielder Taylor Osburn, who leads the team with a .303 batting average and has one home run and eight RBI. Junior infielder Jayna Spivey is batting .292 with two doubles, and sophomore outfielder Meredith Wilson is hitting .238 with a triple, a home run, and 4 RBI. The Saluki pitching staff is led by senior right-hander Brittany Lang (3-3 in 39.2 IP, with 29 strikeouts and a .296 opponent batting average) and sophomore right-hander Alyssa Wunderlich (1-3, 3.68 ERA in 26.2 innings).

As long as the offense can generate some runs, the Bulls should have the advantage in this game, especially with Richardson and Nevins dominating right now. After facing SIU, the Bulls face the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns in the nightcap. Louisiana comes into the tournament on a six-game winning streak, and will face Michigan in their early game on Friday. Senior catcher Sarah Draheim leads the Cajuns with a .500 average, two doubles, three homers, and 11 RBI. Senior outfielder Brianna Cherry is batting .455 with a triple, two home runs, and 11 RBI. Freshman utility player Shellie Landry is another weapon in a powerful lineup, with her .423 average, two home runs, and 13 RBI. The pitching staff is led by sophomore RHP Jordan Wallace, who is 5-0 with a tiny 0.50 ERA. She has worked 28 innings, allowing 18 hits and only six walks while striking out 42. Kristin Martinez has pitched sparingly in relief, and may see more action with Wallace likely to pitch against Michigan.

This game will be much tougher than the first. Louisiana can hit and can shut down a batting order. If there's a game in this tournament that USF loses, it could be this one if they can't generate runs.

Saturday's Games

USF's second day of the tournament begins at 3:30 Saturday afternoon against James Madison. The Dukes* enter the weekend with a 4-1 record, led by senior outfielder Jasmine Butler's .471 batting average and Jailyn Ford's offense (.375, 2 HR, 7 RBI) and pitching (2-0 record, 13 IP, 5 hits, 19 K). The offense is rounded out by sophomore catcher Sarah Mooney, who is batting .438 with a double, home run, and 7 RBI. Joining Ford in the circle is sophomore RHP Heather Kiefer who is 1-2 with a 1.75 ERA in eight innings pitched.

(* - Note from Jamie: The JMU women's teams did used to be called the Duchesses, but they stopped that a long time ago. Bummer.)

James Madison is an interesting team. Ford is a dual threat, sort of like Erica Nunn for USF. If Ford pitches and USF can put some pressure on her in the circle, it might take her out of the game on offense too and allow the Bulls to take this one.

The Saturday nightcap is at 6:00pm against UC Davis, who is 5-5 entering the weekend. The Aggies are similar to USF on offense, hitting for good averages but not offering much power. Freshman outfielder Jasmine Lee leads the way with a .371 average, two doubles, and two RBI, while senior catcher/infielder Kelly Schulze hits .353 and junior Chandler Wagner is batting .350 with a double, triple, and 6 RBI. In the circle, UC Davis is led by sophomore RHP Justine Vela who is 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA in 25.1 innings of work. Freshman LHP Leah Munden is 2-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 18.1 innings.

USF's defense, which has been shaky at inopportune times this season, will need to stand up to the Aggies when they put the ball in play. They have to manufacture runs like the Bulls do, and USF won't want to give them any help. As long as the D doesn't boot the ball around or throw it away, USF's pitching staff should be able to handle UC Davis.

Sunday's Game

The final game of the weekend is Sunday at 11:30 against Illinois State, who also enters the weekend at 5-5.

Seniors power the Redbirds offense, including catcher Elizabeth Kay with a .387 average, three home runs, and 10 RBI. Senior outfielder Jhavon Hamilton hits .310, and another senior outfielder, Lauren Kellar is batting .286 with seven RBI. The two main pitchers have vastly different styles. Junior RHP Taylor Baxter is 2-2 with a 3.25 ERA, but has only struck out eight batters in 23.2 innings, with 30 hits allowed. Meanwhile, freshman RHP Regan Romshek is 2-3 with a 4.20 ERA, and has given up 47 hits but struck out 30 in 26.2 innings.

The key to this game will be attacking the two contrasting pitchers. Baxter pitches to contact and isn't aggressive against opposing batters, while Romshek will give up hits and runs but pounds the strike zone in the process. USF hitters will have to be patient but take advantage of the hittable ones.

Overall view for the weekend

There are no top-tier teams on USF's schedule this weekend, which may give their offense a chance to get in gear and their pitching to keep dominating. Lindsey Richardson, who made this past week's Big East softball honor roll, has a miniscule 0.25 ERA so far this season, staking her claim for boss status along with Sara Nevins and her 1.03 ERA. As long as they keep it going this weekend, USF have a chance to win all five games. On offense, Lee Ann Spivey (.364), Kourtney Salvarola (.478), and Stephanie Medina (.341) will need to keep hitting, and if USF can get some more help from players like Kenshyra Jackson (hitting only .261 so far this year), they can sweep their weekend slate.