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USF softball: It’s game day


It’s game day for the University of South Florida softball program. The Bulls say the clock couldn’t be moving any slower.

USF (48-11) is preparing for tonight’s NCAA Super Regional meeting with the Hofstra Pride (41-13) at the USF Softball Stadium. Game 1 already is a sellout (first pitch at 7 p.m., gates open at 6). The best-of-three series continues Saturday at 2:30 and a decisive third game (if necessary) would be played at 5. All the games will be telecast on ESPNU.

For now, though, the first-game anticipation has reached its peak.

“We want to play so bad,’’ USF sophomore shortstop Kourtney Salvarola said. “We are so eager to get out there. We wish it already would’ve happened. We’re excited, so when it all starts, we’ll be very happy.’‘

“The waiting is the worst part,’’ said USF senior third baseman Jessica Mouse, a transfer from LSU who is playing in her first Super Regional event. “We’re so excited to be playing in front of our family, friends and fans. And now that it’s a sellout? That’s crazy. It’s going to be great and we want to play great.’‘

This weekend’s Super Regional winner advances to Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series, which begins Thursday.

Runs will be at a premium tonight. The expected starters are sophomore left-hander Sara Nevins (29-5) for USF and junior right-hander Olivia Galati (33-5) for Hofstra, two of the nation’s best pitchers. Nevins was in the final 10 for the USA Softball Collegiate National Player of the Year, but didn’t make Thursday’s cut to the final three.

USF coach Ken Eriksen, while acknowledging the fan excitement, said he and his players are focused on keeping things as normal as possible.

“The fans will get really jacked up because they cheer for colors and I get that aspect of it,’’ Eriksen said. “There’s a lot of loyalty, a lot of pride when your university is on the cusp of doing something enormous. But these kids are 18 to 22 years old. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.

“Let’s not make this complicated. It’s a game of high-level catch and throw, hit the ball and run your butt off. We’re not changing anything in terms of our approach. We are prepared and now we just need to play the way we’re capable of playing.’‘

USF obviously has an advantage playing at home in its 2-year-old stadium, which will swell to 1,500 fans tonight (in the seats, along the berms, by the railings, maybe even stationed in an outfield tree or two). Another advantage: The Bulls took a bus trip to their NCAA regional at Gainesville. Hofstra, meanwhile, was shipped to Los Angeles. Its players arrived back in New York late Monday night. Galati, on Tuesday, admitted to some fatigue as she slept in until about 11 a.m. Hofstra was on a plane to Tampa on Wednesday.

“I think you’ve got to worry about us and you can’t worry about the other team,’’ Eriksen said. “Look, these are young kids. They’re going to bounce back. This is an exhilarating time. There are only 16 (Division I) teams still playing. The other 304 are back home. If you can’t get jacked up for this, then you’re in the wrong sport and you have the wrong mentality.’‘

Hofstra coach Bill Edwards, a long-time friend of Eriksen, said he hasn’t focused on the Pride’s travel itinerary.

“It has been a whirlwind experience, coast to coast,’’ Edwards said. “If you stop and think about it, yes, it is difficult. But it beats being home and having your season over. If we’re going through some minor inconveniences, the thrill of being here and the opportunity to play for the World Series, that trumps everything.’‘

Edwards said he will play up the underdog role with his team.

“All of our kids are from the Northeast and that’s our recruiting philosophy,’’ Edwards said. “We try to get the best players in the Northeast and take them as far as we can take them. We’d like to show the rest of the country, even though our region doesn’t get much respect, that we can play.

“We’re the only private school left in the field. We’re kind of playing for the little guy. The Super Regionals are filled with schools from BCS conferences and we’re the little guy playing for the Northeast region, the mid-majors, all the teams that are not BCS. We take that role to heart. We’re an old-school program, one that works very hard, and we are very focused on the task at hand.’‘

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