Bulls struggle through lackluster season

USF baseball came to understand the definition of struggle as they tromped through a 31-27 season plagued by inconsistency.

The Bulls even struggled in the Conference USA tournament, just as they struggled to qualify.

“I’m disappointed,” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said. “We had way higher expectations, and it is disappointing how it turned out, to tell you the truth.”

The Bulls capped their season by losing to Louisville in the loser’s bracket of the C-USA Tournament Friday. The Cardinals, which have lost five consecutive post-season matches to the Bulls, got their revenge as they defeated USF 11-4.

“It was very disappointing,” senior pitcher David Austen said. “We beat them a lot in the post season and they were going to get to us sooner or later, and they got us that day and ended our season.”

After losing a close 4-3 game Wednesday to Tulane in the opening game of the C-USA Tournament, the Bulls entered the loser’s bracket and beat TCU 10-6 Thursday before losing to Louisville.

This season was the worst for the Bulls since 2000, when they ended the year 29-29. Cardieri blamed weak batting and poor defense as cause for the mediocre record this season.

“We led the league in errors,” Cardieri said. “Our defense really hurt us.”

After a promising 11-4 start to its season, USF was never quite the same at the plate after two close losses to Miami in March. Its hitting became unpredictable as the season went on, leaving Cardieri unhappy with the approach at the plate.

“Ever since we went to Miami, we didn’t ever hit like this club could hit,” Cardieri said. “If you look at the final statistics, it bears it out. We had way too many strikeouts. Way too many guys that struck out way more then they walked.”

Cardieri was not disappointed in all aspects of the team. The coach said he was content with his pitching staff. The starting rotation consisted of junior Jon Uhl, Austen and junior Travis Rios, who was kicked off the team late in the season.

“Our pitching is really to be commended,” Cardieri said. “Our pitching gave us a chance to win.”

Even when the batting struggled, pitching kept the Bulls in the game. A 4.29 ERA earned the Bulls the fourth best ERA in the league, even after the sudden departure of Rios.

Rios, who compiled a 6-1 record with a 3.07 ERA, had become the concrete Sunday starter for the Bulls, but was unexpectedly removed from the team May 1 after violating a team policy. His departure could not have been more untimely, heralding a seven-game losing streak that had the Bulls clawing their way into the C-USA Tournament.

“It was big,” Austen said. “He would have probably won six of his last seven starts, so that obviously hurt, and when we got into the tournament, it hurt us even more.”

After losing six straight, the Bulls were in a situation where they had to win one game against Memphis in their last conference series in order to secure qualification to the C-USA Tournament. The Bulls dropped the first game, but kept their nerve to win the remaining two games.

“There was some pressure there, knowing that we had to win one game for us to get into the tournament, but it was more of a relaxation,” junior Myron Leslie said. “We were more relaxed and comfortable.”

Next season is up in the air for the Bulls, because the Major League Draft has not yet taken place. The draft that takes place June 2-3 could claim many of USF’s key players.

“Some of the guys (on the team) are going to be drafted and drafted pretty high,” Cardieri said. “So until the draft, when we know where they are drafted and if they want to sign or if they are going to come to college and all that, it is hard to entertain (thoughts of) what might happen.”

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