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Softball Collects Hardware, Heads To Conference Tournament

Another NCAA trip looks assured. Can they add a conference title?

Pictured: half of the AAC All-Conference softball team.
Pictured: half of the AAC All-Conference softball team.

The USF softball team ended its regular season at 40-14, 13-5 in the AAC, and secured the #2 seed at the conference tournament in Houston, which began Thursday.

But first, they had some conference awards to collect. The incomparable Sara Nevins won the conference's Pitcher of the Year award. She was also one five USF players on the 12-person All-Conference first team. The others were 1B Stephanie Medina, SS Kourtney Salvarola, and OFs Ashli Goff and Juli Weber. Weber also won the Rookie of the Year award. Catcher Lee Ann Spivey made second team all-conference.

Also, Nevins is a finalist for the NCAA Senior Class Award, which rewards excellence "in the classroom, in the community, demonstrates outstanding character, and brings a spirit of competition to their sport." Click here and help stuff the ballot box for her.

The American Athletic Conference tournament began today in Houston. It's an eight-team, single elimination tournament. So far the seeds have held, with the only upset being #5 Rutgers knocking off #4, and home team, Houston.

USF shot out to a 5-0 lead against Memphis, but had to hold off a late rally to win 5-3. Erica Nunn pitched the last inning and two thirds to get the save. USF's #9 hitter Kristin Wyckoff had a big day, going 3 for 3. It was a tighter game than expected, considering that USF run-ruled Memphis 10-0 and 12-0 in their last two games, less than two weeks ago.

But things get much tougher from here. USF's five conference losses were all to the two teams USF is most likely to face in the conference tournament. Semifinal opponent Louisville swept a three-game series from the Bulls, and #1 seed UCF took 2 of 3.

Regardless of what happens in the conference tournament, USF should be a lock to make the NCAA regionals. They are 41-14 after beating Memphis today, 35 in the RPI rankings, and have a strong resume. They played a schedule loaded with NCAA-caliber teams, going 7-12 against teams in the RPI top 50. They only have one bad loss, 1-0 to Binghamton back on Valentine's Day. They have wins over #6 Louisiana-Lafayette, #21 James Madison, #26 UCF (one win of a three-game series), #41 Stanford, three wins over #43 Houston, and #47 College of Charleston.

But USF may soon run into another team that dominated them this season: Florida. The Gators are ranked #1 in the RPI, and crushed USF in two games this season, 10-3 and 17-1.

USF softball has made seven NCAA Regionals since 2003. Incredibly, six of those teams were sent to Gainesville. (The seventh? Tallahassee, in a regional where Florida also participated.) And it could happen again. USF looks to be a low #2 seed, which would pair equitably with UF as a high #1 seed. It makes sense geographically, always a consideration in the non-revenue sports. And USF has been a foil to UF's powerful program of late, winning the Gainesville regional in 2012 and 2006.

If they don't get sent to Hogtown again, other possible destinations include Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, and Louisiana-Lafayette. This bracketology piece sends the Bulls west, to the Arizona State regional. But with so many southeastern teams in position to host regionals, a trip out west seems unlikely.

Though it would be welcomed. Nevins is a senior, as are Medina, Salvarola, Ashli Goff, and her sister Courtney Goff. It sure would be nice to see this team, that's done so many great things in their career, get a favorable regional and one last shot at another World Series. Plus, there's not much to do in Gainesville.

However it ends, Sara Nevins will go down as one of USF's all-time greats in any sport. Check out this voluminous bio: USA national team member. Three-time national player of the year finalist. Led team to a Women's College World Series. Eight no-hitters, including two perfect games. Buried every USF softball pitching record. Too many conference awards and player-of-the-week recognitions to count. And a superstar in the community as well.

USF has only retired five jersey numbers in its history. Nevins' #00 ought to be the sixth.