The losers’ bracket.
A place dreaded by coaches in tournament settings – the doldrums of the NCAA Regional competition, a place which is often the precursor to elimination. That’s where the Bulls found themselves after the 6-1 opening game loss to Central Florida at the NCAA Regional Tournament hosted by Florida State.
However, the Bulls would fight their way back, despite the critics who questioned the Bulls deservedness to be in the tournament, to win two games on Saturday to advance to the final against Florida State on Sunday.
“Some people didn’t think we deserved to be here, so from there, there wasn’t any real pressure,” sophomore Myron Leslie said. “And we made it to the championship game, that shows something.”
Sunday, the Bulls’ momentum would be stifled as the Seminoles’ bats proved to be too overpowering for South Florida, which allowed a seven-run fifth inning. The Bulls were stopped at the regional final, only the team’s second appearance in the final game of the school’s 11 regional appearances.
Sunday’s game ended with the Seminoles advancing to the Super Regional with the 13-6 win against USF.
The Bulls jumped ahead early with a run in each of the first three innings. Sophomore pitcher Jon Uhl, who struggled through one inning during the Bulls’ Friday afternoon opening loss, seemed to be going strong through four. In the fifth, however, Uhl would issue a first-batter walk to Richie Smith and, two batters later, a two-run home run to freshman Stephen Drew.
“The one crooked number, that one inning killed us,” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said. “But otherwise, we showed we could play with them. It’s a great thing for their guys and a tough thing for our guys.”
Despite the Bulls adding two in the eighth and one in the ninth, the Bulls couldn’t contain the Seminoles, who got 7 2/3 innings from pitcher Marc LaMacchia. But it was Drew who was the real catalyst for FSU. He went 4-for-5 on the day with two home runs, a triple, three RBI and he scored three times.
The Bulls were unable to get the bats going with only Mike Barclay getting multiple hits with two doubles. Myron Leslie hit his second home run in two days, both to right field at Dick Howser Stadium, soaring over a 30-foot fence that batters other than Drew couldn’t quite conquer.
UCF 6, USF 1
Friday’s 6-1 loss to Central Florida started with a three-run first inning by the Golden Knights, forged offensively by a steady smattering of hits. Clay Timpner led the way for UCF, going 3-for-5 with two RBI, but the key to the Golden Knights success was the pitching from junior Bo Hall. It was the second complete game from Hall vs. USF, with the first coming against the Bulls April 23 in the final regular season meeting between the two clubs.
“I think the guy on the mound is the biggest factor,” Cardieri said. “The only change (from early season meetings) is they are pretty good now. I don’t honestly remember them not being good. Once they take the lead their bullpen can shut anyone down.”
FSU 11, Stetson 8
Stetson was knocked into the losers’ bracket after its opening game against Florida State. The Hatters were up 6-0 in the fourth but couldn’t hold onto the lead. Five Seminole doubles, including two from center fielder Nick Rogers, paced FSU’s comeback. Rogers had three RBI on the day.
“Tonight’s game really shows what kind of team this is,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said. “I’m very proud of our ball club. Stetson showed that they are a well-coached, well-balanced team.”
Stetson did see tremendous power from catcher Chris Westervelt, who hit his 17th home run of the season and added a double to his 3-for-5 day.
USF 14, Stetson 13
In the early game Saturday, the Bulls found themselves facing off against another familiar opponent, Stetson, which lost to FSU in its opening game. The Bulls eliminated the Hatters after coming back from two six run deficits to win 14-13.
The Hatters had a 3-2 advantage on the season against the Bulls. Similar to UCF, they jumped out to an early lead on the Bulls with a three-run first inning.
In all Stetson would score six unanswered by the third, making short work of Bulls’ starter Jason Bartz, who went two innings and faced one in the third before being replaced by David Austen.
The Bulls’ bats came alive in the fifth inning with USF scoring five, led by a two RBI double by senior Chris Cuccia. Cuccia would have three doubles on the day, going 4-for-6 and scoring twice. The Bulls scored another in the sixth, tying the game at 6. Stetson continued an onslaught in hitting, scoring six more in the seventh and one in the top of the ninth.
But the Bulls’ offense didn’t stop either, keeping pace with the Hatters by scoring three in the seventh and two in the eighth. After Stetson scored once more in the ninth, the Bulls scored three in the bottom half to take the win. Including their game against FSU on Friday, the Hatters let three six-run leads slip away.
FSU 7, UCF 3
Behind the arm of Blair Varnes, the Seminoles knocked the Golden Knights into the Saturday night game against South Florida. The Seminoles used a two-run seventh and a three-run eighth, but the game out of reach for UCF. In the eighth, UCF’s pitching fell apart as two runs scored on consecutive bases-loaded walks.
“I thought that both teams played real hard today,” UCF coach Jay Bergman said. “We had a couple of chances with the bases loaded, and we didn’t cash in on them. And when they got the opportunity to score runs, they did. They got to our bullpen, which had been strong for us this year.”
Daniel Hodges earned the save in relief for the Seminoles, pitching the eighth and ninth allowing no runs on one hit and one base-on-balls.
USF 7, UCF 2
The Bulls came back later in the day to again face UCF, but this time it would be a nine-inning performance from USF junior pitcher Ryan Gloger that would be the story of the game. Gloger, in a sherpa-like performance, led the Bulls up the mountain toward Sunday’s final with a 7-2 victory against the Golden Knights. Central Florida’s two runs came in the ninth in Gloger’s only apparent moments of weakness.
“I felt like toward the end I started to feel stronger, whereas in the past, I have kind of hit a wall around 100 pitches,” Gloger said. “I think I threw 118 today, and the last three batters were pretty good. I kind of struggled at the beginning of that inning and lost my concentration, got caught up in the moment.”
Devin Ivany went 3-for-4 in the game with 3 RBI leading the Bulls offense.