The last time the South Florida baseball team saw Florida Gulf Coast on March 8 it had won five of its last six games – the only loss being a one-run loss in a 16-inning game.
But then the Eagles handed the Bulls a 3-2 loss in their home ballpark. That loss was the first of four USF would endure in its next five games.
Tonight, the Bulls (9-11) will face the Eagles (11-9) again in their final tune-up before Big East play starts this weekend.
Coach Lelo Prado will send senior right-handed pitcher Kyle Eastham to the mound for his fourth start of the season. Eastham is 2-1 on the season and has recorded 24 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched. He trails only Randy Fontanez for the team lead in strikeouts.
Eastham has spent most of his career as a relief pitcher, but was handed his first start since 2008 against Florida A&M on March 6. He struck out 11 Rattlers – a new career high – in seven shutout innings.
Eastham is likely to remain a starter for the rest of the season after USF’s usual No. 2 starter, Andrew Barbosa, underwent surgery on his pitching arm last Thursday. Barbosa left his second start of the season Feb. 24th after four innings due to tightness in his pitching arm. USF is looking into applying for a sixth-year of NCAA eligibility for him, according to a release from USF Athletics.
Even without Barbosa, pitching has been one of USF’s greatest strengths this season. For the Bulls to succeed tonight, as well as in Big East play, the offense will need to provide more run support for the pitching staff.
The Bulls have scored just 3.9 runs per game this season and have a team batting average of .250.
Senior Peter Brotons – who has appeared seven times this year and split time between second base and designated hitter – has yet to collect a hit this season in 15 at-bats. He safely reached first base for the first time all season in the third inning Sunday against Bethune-Cookman via a fielder’s choice play. Brotons has struck out six times without drawing a single walk.
Shortstop Sam Mende is the only Bull batting over .300 this year, but he also struck out 20 times, including a four-strikeout performance during USF’s previous meeting against Florida Gulf Coast.
The first pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Swanson Stadium in Fort Myers.