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Injuries, criticism couldn’t slow down Bulls

After a solid showing in the baseball NCAA Regional Tournament, losing to host team Florida State in the finals on June 2, South Florida coach Eddie Cardieri seemed a little caught off guard by questions asking him to sum up his team’s season.

Cardieri shot back with the banter of coaches:

“It was a roller-coaster ride … bumps and bruises along the way … rocky start and then battling back in March,” Cardieri said at the immediate end of his season.

Then Cardieri took an aside and reflected on his team from the standpoint of what they had accomplished throughout the season. The team that Cardieri fully expected to follow the previous year’s team into the NCAA tournament fell under criticism of media organizations, most notably Baseball America, which, in one column after the NCAA selection show, deemed the Bulls 31-25 regular season record as undeserving of a bid.

Cardieri scoffed at this after the 13-6 loss to FSU in the regional final as a little bit of vindication to have made it that far.

“I guess we could have been fishing this week instead of being here,” he said. “Here we are, and we made it to championship day.”

However, instead of wetting a line out on a lake or in the gulf, Cardieri’s team did proceed into the regional tournament. The Bulls fell into the losers’ bracket in the first game after a 6-1 loss to Central Florida behind the arm of Bo Hall, who pitched a complete game for the Golden Knights.

The Bulls found themselves struggling like the proverbial “hooked fish” only to snap the line in two wins on Saturday to propel themselves into the regional final. A 14-3 win in the morning game eliminated Stetson, and then a solid performance from junior pitcher Ryan Gloger led the Bulls to a 7-2 vindicating victory against the Golden Knights.

However, the season as a whole would have to be looked at in Cardieri’s coach-like description of a roller coaster ride with a lot of straight-aways through the tunnel of .500.

In the team’s regular season, it spent its two latter months at .500 going 8-8 in April and finishing the regular season with a 6-6 record in May.

The Bulls started the season with an 0-3 record and finished the month of February with a 4-6 mark, but a turnaround in March had South Florida sitting with a 17-11 season after going 13-5. The Bulls went 4-4 in their two postseason appearances, bowing out in the Conference USA tournament after two losses to East Carolina and the season-ending defeat to FSU in the regional final.

“We didn’t start out well, but we battled back,” Cardieri said. “We beat a lot of good teams during the year. I mean, if you’re .500 against all these teams that made it to the tournament.”

The team’s roster did sustain some bumps along the way, as Cardieri’s pitching rotation seemed to change weekly due to injuries. The season started with one of the Bulls’ mound mainstays, senior John Gorham, having his health in question. Gorham made his first start of the season only two weeks removed from having his right knee scoped. Sophomore Jon Uhl and senior Jason Bartz both missed time due to arm fatigue of one form or another.

Similarly, junior transfer Ryan Gloger, who had pitched only six innings in his previous two seasons while with Stanford, bounced in and out of the starting rotation.

“Certain things happen during the year,” Cardieri said. “You have a guy like Bartz go down and it changes your staff. And Gloger was a mess and that changes your staff. If we had those guys solidly all season we’re talking about a different team. But I think we battled pretty well without them.”

The shining spot of this season’s team was that the bats seemed always ready to pick up a struggling pitching staff. With the addition of two freshmen, Jeff Baisley and Devin Ivany, the Bulls’ bats were strong. Baisley led the team with a .358 average and was a constant threat, taking the majority of the starts in the cleanup spot. Baisley also added a team-leading 63 RBI to the Bulls’ scoreboard.

Senior Mike Barclay finished the season with a .336 average and 10 home runs, tying him for the team lead with Ivany. Barclay also led the team with seven triples. Myron Leslie answered his stellar freshman season in 2001 with a solid 2002. Along with making the move from third to shortstop this season, Leslie batted .310 with 19 doubles and seven home runs, two of them in the regional tournament.