Salukis next for 4-1 Bulls

USF baseball is on a roll, as it has won its last three games. The Bulls are looking for three more when they face the Southern Illinois Salukis this weekend in a three-game series that starts tonight at Red McEwen Field.

The Bulls (4-1) have only met the Salukis (2-1) three times in the past 17 seasons.

“I see them along the lines of a Jacksonville,” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said. “I mean this is going to be a solid team that is well-coached that has experienced players coming back.”

Cardieri is not going to treat this game differently from any of the other games that the Bulls play this season. However, the coach is considering the Salukis to be another team that could get USF into the NCAA Tournament in June.

“It’s another ballgame, and they all count for getting us to the NCAA Tournament,” Cardieri said. “We try to tell our players that we’re getting a bid today. This game is one that’s going to help us get in the tournament, then the game Saturday, that’s going to help us get into the tournament.”

Tonight’s matchup will be SIU’s fourth game this season, so the Bulls do not know much about the Salukis’ playing style. Due to the lack of knowledge on SIU, the Bulls’ game strategy will be decided on a play-by-play basis rather than pre-game planning.

“Hopefully, after a few at-bats, we’ll know what the hitters’ weaknesses are, and we can try to attack (the game) from that standpoint,” Cardieri said. “But we don’t have a whole lot of information to go on because it’s early in the season and they have only a couple of games under their belt.”

Cardieri said he is happy about his team’s performance so far this season. Winning four out of five games has bolstered the team’s confidence, but Cardieri said there is still work to be done.

“Right now, we’re pretty confident in all facets,” Cardieri said. “I would like to see us a little better — more consistent defensively, but I think we are swinging the bat well. We’re running the bases well, and we’re pitching good.”

This weekend, starting pitchers will begin to take their scheduled turns. Jon Uhl will start Friday, David Austen will start Saturday and Travis Rios will start Sunday. The rotation was disrupted due to a rainout against Stetson Feb. 9 and a two-game weekend series against Jacksonville Saturday and Sunday. Austen was named Conference USA Pitcher of the Week for his performance Sunday, with a career-high eight strikeouts.

“David’s got three pitches he throws for strikes at anytime in the count.” Cardieri said. “David Austen would pitch every day if you let him.”

The first pitch of the weekend is at 7 p.m. at Red McEwen Field. Saturday and Sunday’s games are at 1 p.m. and noon respectively.