USF baseball is currently 2-10 in the AAC and sitting at rock bottom in conference standings — a stark contrast from coach Billy Mohl’s first season with the Bulls when they finished second in the AAC and made a run in the NCAA Regional Tournament.
The Bulls’ conference schedule is halfway over, and with four conference series left to play and zero series wins for USF so far, it may prove a challenge for the Bulls to make the AAC Tournament — the top eight teams make the conference tournament and the Bulls are ranked ninth.
The Bulls have been swept twice this season, once against No. 15 ECU and again against Tulane. Last season, USF won both series 2-1, beating ECU, who was ranked No. 7.
USF lost five players to the MLB Draft at the end of last season — infielders David Villar and Coco Montes, as well as pitchers Peter Strzelecki, Andrew Perez and Shane McClanahan, are all playing professionally in some capacity. This season’s record shows that there was a void left when these players departed.
Last season, the Bulls batted .292 in the AAC and Villar was the top batter with a .393 average. This season, USF is hitting .227 in the AAC and the current leader is senior Chris Chatfield who is batting .350.
“Last year we swung really well, hit the best in the league,” senior Joe Genord said after Tuesday’s loss to North Florida. “This year, we’re not there but we are still a good hitting team.”
In addition to this season’s hitting woes, the Bulls lost three key pitchers from last season, making another challenge from the mound. Junior pitcher Ben Koff is out with an injury for the rest of the season and the pitching rotation has been struggling with consistency.
Strzelecki was USF’s most relied on pitcher last season, pitching 52.2 innings in the AAC and had a 3.75 ERA. Junior Collin Sullivan, USF’s most utilized pitcher this season with 21.2 AAC innings, has a 7.48 ERA. Senior Alec Wisely has pitched just one inning less than Sullivan and his ERA is 9.00.
Junior pitcher Noah Yager started against North Florida on Tuesday and faced just four batters before he was taken out. Mohl explained that Yager’s elbow was bothering him, which could add to the Bulls’ pitching injury woes.
“We’re down a lot of pitching which is hurting,” Genord said.
There are some individuals on the team who have had successful seasons. Genord and senior Kyle Phillips both rank in the top 20 for individual AAC statistics. Genord said the team need to play better as a whole despite individual success.
“When we do what we need to do for the team, we play well,” Genord said. “We just sometimes get out of character and try to do too much because some guys feel, myself included, we feel we need to do more.”
With 12 AAC games left to play, Genord is hoping for a mid-conference season surge to propel the Bulls to the AAC Tournament.
“The ultimate goal is making playoffs and, other than that, I wouldn’t be happy,” Genord said. “I think we can still pull it off…we’ll see what it holds.”
So how can USF get to the postseason this year?
“We just need to find ourselves,” Genord said. “We need to get back to what we can do individually, try to win as a team…really just all around play better.”