Toledo Rocket Lanie Ernst, in gold, can’t handle the throw, and D’Anna Devine of University of South Florida slides safely into second base March 2 during the USF Under Armour Invitational at the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater.
CLEARWATER – Softball has come to Clearwater, and some of the best players in the country will be around through Sunday, March 17. The USF softball series began March 1 with the USF Under Armour Invitational, and continues this weekend, Friday, March 8 through Sunday, March 10, with the USF Under Armour Showcase and concluding the following weekend with the City of Clearwater Spring Invitational.
The events are all held at the Eddie C. Moore Complex, 2780 Drew St., and are some of the largest NCAA Division I tournaments in the country. Teams from all over the country will play, including USF, Boston University, Penn State, Quinnipiac University, Northwestern University, Dartmouth College, Florida A&M University, Iowa State University, the University of South Carolina and many others. A complete list and schedule is at www.usfseries.com.
Many of the teams are on their spring breaks and stay for the whole week, playing in the tournaments on the bookended weekends, said Melissa “Skeeter” Gentile, tournament director. This brings thousands of people to Clearwater and the Tampa Bay area.
“A lot of these teams play in a tournament and then they stay during the week and practice and they pick up mid-week games and then they play in the next weekend’s tournament as well,” Gentile said. “So quite a few of these teams are here for seven to 10 days in the Clearwater area. … So it’s not only great softball and exposes all of our softball athletes in the county to some great softball but it also brings a huge economic impact to the area in terms of these teams spending money in our local businesses and enjoying our beaches. So it’s a win-win for everybody.”
This is a good opportunity for the participating schools because it allows them to really prepare in the preseason, playing against the other best teams, but it also allows for a rare vacation, Gentile said. Especially for the northern teams which otherwise would be spending their spring breaks practicing but being stuck in the freezing temperatures. This way, she said, they can steal a day or two on the beach as well as getting in practicing and tournaments.
“Any softball team in the country wants to use their preseason games to prepare them for their conference play and hopefully postseason play later down the line,” Gentile said. “So these games are important because these teams can come here in the sun and enjoy good weather and get great games that are putting them in positions to compete at a higher level in their conference.”
The main focus for the teams in these tournaments are to make sure they improve in each game, Gentile said. A title is just a bonus.
Gentile urges anyone in the public to come out and watch the event. Most people don’t watch softball until it gets to the final games at the highest levels, but this is a chance to see some of the teams early who will go on to the college world series and be on ESPN, Gentile said. She especially encourages young softball players to attend.
“It certainly is a teachable moment for kids to sit and watch female athletes and what they are aspiring to do,” Gentile said. “What better opportunity than to see some of the best teams in the country and learn what you can from watching athletes at that level.”
People of all ages are welcome, and prices are $8 a day for adults age 18 and older, $6 for children ages 6 to 17, and children 5 and younger are free. A weekend adult pass is $15, and a weekend child pass is $10. People also are encouraged to visit www.usfseries.com for details and to see if their alma mater is playing.