The USF baseball season opener is just around the corner as the Bulls return to the field against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles on Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Bulls have had their trials and triumphs in preparation for the season, including working around the COVID-19 pandemic and facing a challenging schedule. Coach Billy Mohl said the Bulls are ready to finally get back out on the field.
“We are excited, it’s been over 300 days since we have played someone else,” Mohl said Wednesday.
Here are some things to look out for when the bats start swinging.
The season-opening series for the Bulls comes against FGCU from Feb. 20-21 with a doubleheader at home Saturday and a single game in Alico Arena in Fort Myers on Sunday.
The Bulls and Eagles will meet again from March 12-14. The second game of the series, which is scheduled for March 13, will be played at home, while the first game March 12, and the final game March 14 will be played in Fort Myers.
Mohl referenced a couple of teams he and the players have their eyes on, including repeat games against USF’s War on I-4 rivals.
“Obviously playing UCF eight times that’s going to be exciting, not only for our players but [for] our fan base [as well],” he said.
The Bulls will play two four-game series against UCF. The first will take place at home from April 1-3, featuring a doubleheader on April 2. A few weeks later, the second series will play out April 16-18.
USF has a 75-69 all-time lead over UCF over the 144 times the two teams have matched up.
Mohl also touched on the set of games USF has against Texas Tech.
“The road series at Texas Tech is one all of our guys are looking forward to, going on the road against a top-five opponent in the country and stacking up against them.”
The Bulls will pack their bags and head to Lubbock, Texas, to take on the Red Raiders from March 26-28.
Although they get to travel out of state for the Texas Tech game, this year’s schedule is much more regionalized than usual due to the pandemic. The Bulls are scheduled to play mainly Florida teams as well as familiar conference foes.
Players to watch
The Bulls have a balanced roster, ranging from seasoned veterans and transfers to inexperienced, yet talented freshmen.
In terms of the pitching staff, there are plenty of arms in the bullpen ready to show off their skill set. Freshman Drew Brutcher, sophomore Jack Jasiak and senior Baron Stuart are all players to keep an eye on as the season goes along.
Mohl named Jasiak the starter for Saturday’s season opener, something the sophomore said he is more than ready for.
“I am super excited that coach Mohl gave me this opportunity to throw for the first game of the season,” Jasiak said. “Everyone’s goal is to reach that point, but getting any job on the weekend is just as important as the first one.
“Our goal is to win this first game [against FGCU] and set the tone for the weekend.”
In the shortened 2020 season, then-freshman Jasiak tallied an ERA of 3.09 and logged 28 strikeouts in 23.1 innings pitched. Although a small sample size, it was enough to earn him the start against the Eagles on Saturday.
As for Stuart, he is someone whom Mohl praised for his improvement physically in the offseason.
“Baron Stuart has been the biggest surprise so far, he cleaned up his body, dropped quite a bit of weight and he has been running it up there touching 95s and his control is better, his breaking ball is better,” Mohl said.
Last season was a struggle for Stuart as he had a total of 21 strikeouts and an ERA of 6.89, but the work he’s done in the offseason could help him improve those numbers.
Brutcher has also impressed Mohl with his versatility both as an outfielder and as a pitcher.
“Drew Brutcher, the freshman from over in Lakeland, you will probably see him in right field on opening day,” Mohl said. “But he’s also on the bump he’s 90-93, he’s got a chance to be a really special player when it is all said and done.”
At Lakeland High School, Brutcher had a .542 batting average while driving in 11 runs in addition to his 0.32 ERA as a pitcher over 22 innings.
As for the offense, one of the main highlights in the infield is senior catcher Jake Sullivan.
“He is our No. 1 catcher, hopefully, he stays healthy and he is our No. 1 behind the plate,” Mohl said. “He is also our team captain, he is a big part of our program, he’s a coach’s kid which makes it even better, but he’s a huge part of what will be our success.”
In 2020, Sullivan appeared in 17 games and started 16. He also led the conference in putouts with 171.
The adjustments of playing in a pandemic
After almost a year without USF baseball, anticipation for this season is running high.
COVID-19 has changed the way games are played, as well as the matchups for the season, but the Bulls have gotten comfortable with their surroundings.
“It’s a different era we are living in, you know obviously we have to adapt to the circumstances,” Mohl said. “Our guys have done a pretty good job with that, we battled the COVID bug pretty bad in the fall.”
In an attempt to complete the season without any interruption, Jasiak said he and his teammates are monitoring each other’s behavior.
“We all are keeping each other accountable; we all are trying to stay on the right path and we are doing a good thing right now,” Jasiak said.
First pitch of the season opener on Saturday is scheduled for 1 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN+ and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.