By ROD GIPSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001
TAMPA -- With the positive results from two tournaments behind it, the USF softball team is off to the West Coast this weekend to face tough competition at the UCLA Tournament in Los Angeles.
The Bulls head to California the owners of an 11-9 record but on a seven-game winning streak.
In beating Florida International 2-1 on Saturday, the Bulls won the Wilson Tournament, captured their second consecutive tournament and have helped ease the frustration of an 0-6 start that threatened to ruin the season by the end of January.
It wasn't a piece of art, but it didn't have to be, Bulls coach Ken Eriksen said.
"We didn't win pretty. We won ugly," Eriksen said. "But wins are wins, and if you keep battling and knocking on doors ... I think that's really what happened. We just never gave up."
The Bulls have showed variety during the winning streak, winning games in extra innings, getting outstanding pitching and using solid defense and hitting. The pitching, however, might be the key. Cindy Turek and Jamie Anderson has contributed with solid outings, and Jessi Kowal has been outstanding. Named Conference USA Pitcher of the Week, Kowal recorded four of the Bulls' five victories at the Wilson Tournament.
In wins over Florida International, Hofstra, Indiana and Georgia State, Kowal allowed only six hits, didn't give up a run and struck out 11 in 161/3 innings.
Kowal also was named Most Valuable Pitcher for the tournament. She leads USF with an 8-3 record and a 0.55 ERA. She has thrown six complete games in seven starts and pitched in 13 of the Bulls' 20 games. Kowal led the Bulls to a 5-0 record last weekend, including her win over then-No. 25 FIU.
That bodes well for the Bulls, who will continue their tough schedule this weekend.
USF opens the tournament against UNLV before facing host, and National Fastpitch Coaches Association No. 1 ranked UCLA on Saturday.
A day later, the Bulls play No. 14 Oregon State before ending the tournament Tuesday against Temple. The Bulls already have faced five ranked teams this season in FIU, Arizona, Notre Dame, Washington and South Carolina, going 2-5 in those games. In addition to the pitching, Eriksen's offense has gotten out of its early-season funk. In its first five games, the Bulls had 25 hits, scored just six runs and were shut out twice. During its past seven games, the Bulls have 46 hits and scored 19 runs.
Third baseman Ginny Georgantas continues to lead the Bulls with a .365 batting average. One of three Bulls to start all 20 games, Georgantas has 23 hits, 5 doubles, 9 runs and 8 RBI, all team-highs.
Shortstop Renee Oursler is hitting .264 and has scored seven runs while leftfielder Shelly Riker is batting .297 with 11 hits. Centerfielder Stephanie Roberts and first baseman Courtney Lewellen also have contributed with 11 hits apiece.
After this weekend, the Bulls host two more tournaments before beginning their Conference USA schedule at Saint Louis on March 24.
The Speedline Invitational March 8-13 features Tennessee Tech, Georgia Tech, No. 6 Stanford, Penn State, Georgia Southern and Florida A&M.
USF will follow that with the USF/Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department tournament March 15-18.
The Bulls will host Canisius, Rutgers, Akron, No. 20 Texas A&M and Maine.