GAINESVILLE – Having just missed an opportunity to top Florida during the first weekend of the season, No. 21 South Florida made up for things on Wednesday.
The Bulls (30-5 overall, 3-0 Big East) used early runs and a complete game from Sara Nevins to knock off the fourth-ranked Gators (29-3 overall, 10-2 SEC) in front of 1,089 fans in Gainesville in a mid-week matchup, winning 4-1 to snap the Gators’ 16-game home winning streak and extend USF’s best start in school history.
“That was a good game for us to win,” head coach Ken Eriksen said. “We’ve been in those tough situations before on the road, and came out on the other end. I think our perseverance was pretty strong at the end.”
Nevins pitched herself out of trouble all game, drawing help from two double plays and a strong all-around defensive effort to strand runners after allowing the leadoff hitter to reach in each of first four innings.
The Bulls flashed their leather throughout the game, ending the first and second innings on double plays, then saving a potential run-scoring double in the third as Gina Kafalas chased down a liner in the right-field corner for the first out.
But possibly the biggest defensive play came in the sixth, as Kourtney Salvarola scooped up a grounder with the bases loaded and took the easy out at second, ending the Gators’ best chance at a big inning. The inning doubled Florida’s total runners left on base in the game, as the Gators had multiple runners on base just twice in the game.
In contrast, the Bulls always seemed to be threatening, leaving 12 runners on the base-paths and putting at least two runners on in five of seven innings.
The Bulls drew first blood. USF took advantage of a pair of first-inning walks and a single to load the bases before driving in the first run with Salvarola’s sacrifice fly to right. Janine Richardson followed with an RBI single back up the middle, and the Bulls opened up a 2-0 lead before setting foot on the field defensively.
USF posted two more in the third, taking advantage of a Gators’ error and sacrifice fly to extend the lead to four. Ashli Goff and Stephanie Medina’s back-to-back hits opened the inning, and Goff scored from second on a Salvarola grounder that skipped through the legs of Florida at second base. Two batters later, Laura Fountain lifted a fly ball to medium-deep left field, scoring pinch-runner Courtney Goff from third.
“Coach Eriksen always says to win the first inning, and we did that,” Ashli Goff said. “We put a lot of pressure on them early, scoring early and then adding two in the third. Our whole team is doing really well right now, and working hard in practice, and it’s made things fun for us.”
The Bulls wouldn’t score after the third, as USF stranded eight in the final three innings, but it was enough to do the job. Florida’s lone run came on a lead-off homer from pitcher Lauren Haeger in the fourth. Haeger batted in the seventh, representing the tying run, but Nevins won the final battle, getting the righty swinging and securing her 17th win of the season.
D’Anna Devine and Medina collected a pair of hits apiece, and 16 runners reached as the Bulls recorded eight hits as a team.
“The goal today was to put a good swing on the first good pitch,” Salvarola said. “I think we did a good job of that. We stayed within ourselves and didn’t chase too many pitches. We made solid contact made things happen.”
USF drew five walks and reached on two hit batters. Nevins allowed four free bases and gave up six hits, striking out three.