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USF looks to continue turnaround in Morgantown

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012

Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2012 00:05

With just three games remaining in the 2012 season, the USF baseball team (33-18, 16-8) is on the verge of its best season since joining the Big East in 2007.

A sweep over West Virginia(22-31, 7-17), which is one spot ahead of the conference basement, is all that separates the Bulls from the most Big East wins in school history. Their previous best season was in 2009, when they finished 18-9, second behind Louisville. This year USF has a chance to be the top team in the conference, as it sits just one game behind first-place St. John’s.

Though the changes from last year’s disappointing and injury-riddled campaign are obvious, the Bulls have still managed to exceed expectations for the season.

To little surprise, the Bulls were helped by the return of senior ace Andrew Barbosa, third baseman Daniel Rockhold and closer Ray Delphay, who missed a combined 140 games last season due to injury.

Unexpected contributions from pitchers Derrick Stultz, Joey Lovecchio and Steven Leasure have lifted the Bulls to success.

After the core starting rotation picked up just 14 wins all of last season, the duo of Stultz and Lovecchio, who threw zero innings last season, came up big for the Bulls, pitching 146 huge innings and combining to go 15-4. USF’s bullpen also got an unexpected lift from Steven Leasure, who transferred from Manatee Community College. Leasure proved vital throughout the year for USF, pitching 19 innings and allowing just 13 hits and 3 runs for a 0.95 ERA. The junior led the team with six saves, including what was potentially the biggest one of the season on the road against No. 2 Florida.

With pitching back on point, the Bulls offense was able to get clutch hits time after time, so far scoring 23 more runs in 2012 than 2011. The improvement was led by James Ramsay, who, after hitting .250 with 22 RBIs in 2011, made a jump in every category this season, hitting .325, with 27 RBIs and stealing a team-leading 13 bases. He provided a threat on the base paths that wasn’t present for the Bulls in 2011.

Thanks to statistical jumps across the board, the Bulls have made the most important jump of all: in the Big East standings. In the preseason, USF was picked to finish in fourth place in the Big East, which would be a five-spot improvement from 2011. The Bulls have already locked up a spot in the conference tournament and will have somewhat of a home-field advantage, with the tournament being played at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

Before attacking the conference tournament, the Bulls face the challenge of the final road series of the season. The opportunity is there for the taking, with a chance to win the Big East regular season title, and the chance to complete the turnaround and erase the memories of a frustrating 2011 season. The Bulls will also be watching the scores of St. John’s and Louisville, which are also both jockeying for the conference title.

USF’s final regular season series begins tonight at 7:05 in Morgantown, W Va, followed by games at 7:05 p.m. Friday and 1:00 PM Saturday, after which the Bulls will prepare for the postseason.

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