Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

No doubting USF softball's grit as AAC tourney starts

This is for the USF softball story. This is Bulls senior outfielder (and Plant City High alumnus) Kristen Wyckoff, who broke her left hand earlier this season. 
 (Courtesy of USF)

This is for the USF softball story. This is Bulls senior outfielder (and Plant City High alumnus) Kristen Wyckoff, who broke her left hand earlier this season. (Courtesy of USF)

TAMPA — At this stage, she might be the only healthy person on the USF softball roster. To be sure, she's the most consistent. Seemingly every day, home or on the road, team trainer Allie Palmer delivers.

It's what she delivers — rehab update one day, injury report the next — that has veteran coach Ken Eriksen avoiding Palmer like strep throat.

"She thinks I hate her," he says.

Dusk has settled on the most injury-besieged season of Eriksen's prosperous coaching life. Somehow, darkness hasn't. The Bulls enter today's opening round of the American Athletic Conference tournament alternately throbbing, grimacing, hobbling and aching.

Yet still breathing. At 32-23, and with a half-decent RPI (52), they possess a legitimate shot at their fifth NCAA Tournament berth in the past six seasons.

"You've got to give 'em a lot of credit," Eriksen said.

"I'd say that we're just kind of grinding it out," junior centerfielder Astin Donovan said. "We don't want to be the team that just makes excuses and says, 'Oh, we had a bunch of injuries, so that's why it was a rough year.' "

Donovan and Plant City High alumnus Kristen Wyckoff, the Bulls' top two hitters, still are recovering from fractured left hands sustained earlier in the year.

One-time starting shortstop Cassidy Boyle has been relegated to pinch-hitting due to a rotator-cuff ailment. Outfielder AnaMarie Bruni fractured a finger Sunday at Houston. Right-handed pitcher JoJo McGill missed two weeks with strained ankle ligaments.

Starting catcher Mia Fung — a former Strawberry Crest star — tore an ACL at the season's outset. Fung's backup, Amber Atkinson, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. As a result, third-stringer Morgan Gross has caught every inning of nearly every game.

"We've been with one catcher since the third game of the season," Eriksen said.

Toss in the stunning mid-February dismissal of 2016 AAC Player of the Year Juli Weber (for an unspecified violation), and some might suggest Eriksen has pulled off the best coaching job of his 21 seasons.

But he defers to leaders such as Wyckoff, who opted to have seven screws and a plate inserted into her left hand two days after a hard slide into first base.

Only 17 games later, Wyckoff returned to the lineup, but not after presiding over a players-only meeting in the locker room in early March. Self-pity was checked at the door as Wyckoff and other leaders stressed unity amid the adversity.

"For (Wyckoff) to say, 'You know what, I'm a little (ticked) off right now,' that's when things began to change in respect of grinding it out," Eriksen said.

"When she got injured, Astin was out at the time also. All of the sudden it was like, 'Oh my god, (Wyckoff) is out, what are we gonna do?' What do you guys mean what are we gonna do? We're gonna play ball."

The resilience has especially surfaced down the stretch. Fourth-seeded USF enters the league tournament in Greenville, N.C., having won 11 of its past 15. On Wednesday, Wyckoff — whom Eriksen said is hurting a lot more than she lets on — was named to the all-ACC first team with pitcher Cheyenne Eggens.

Donovan and Academy at the Lakes alumnus Lauren Evans, moved to shortstop out of necessity, made the second team. Sore hands and all, Wyckoff and Donovan enter the tournament hitting .414 and .362, respectively.

"We've overcome a lot," Donovan said. "And I think that kind of tells the story for itself."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

AAC softball tournament

At Greenville, N.C.

Schedule: Today: No. 4 USF vs. No. 5 Memphis (quarterfinal), 10 a.m.; Friday: USF/Memphis winner vs. No. 1 Tulsa (semifinal), 1 p.m.; Saturday: Championship, noon

TV: Title game on ESPN. Other games live-streamed on American Digital Network

No doubting USF softball's grit as AAC tourney starts 05/11/17 [Last modified: Friday, May 12, 2017 1:03am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, Pittsburgh

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Pirates

    7:05, PNC Park

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Probable pitchers

    Rays: Alex Cobb (6-5, 4.05)

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  2. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108
  3. What they're saying about Dave Andreychuk making Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    "Dave helped me so much when I was just starting my career, a young kid that was looking to find his way as a hockey player, a person and a member of the Tampa Bay community. In addition to watching him compile such awe-inspiring statistics, I remember him as a big brother to me and many others, making sure all the …

  4. Fennelly: About time Dave Andreychuk makes Hockey Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    It's Andy's time.

    And it's about time.

    Former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk has been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He had been eligible since 2009, a ridiculously long wait for someone who scored 640 goals, including a record 274 on the power play.

    LEFT: Dave Andreychuk talks at the podium as he is honored with a statue in front of the now-Amalie Arena.
  5. Rays make Hechavarria trade official

    Blogs

    Here is the release from the team ...