Weekend series will showcase talented pitchers

A pitchers’ duel.

That is what it will come down to this weekend, when USF baseball hosts Houston in what will be the beginning of a tough two weeks for the Bulls.

The Cougars, who have the lowest team ERA in Conference USA at 3.22, will be pitted against USF, which has a 4.02, good enough to secure them the fourth spot on the list.

“I say there is a very good chance that there will be three low-scoring games,” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said. “I think pitching will play a very big part in the series.”

USF will start junior Jon Uhl on Friday. Uhl has a 5-1 record this season along with a 4.95 ERA. Saturday’s starter will be David Austen, who has compiled a 9-1 record this season along with a 1.95 ERA. Sunday will showcase Travis Rios, fresh off a complete game against Cincinnati Sunday, when he gave up only one hit.

Rios, the C-USA Pitcher of the Week, has become the clear third starter for the Bulls, putting together a 5-1 record with a 2.91 ERA.

However, Houston will be bringing out its best this weekend, including Brad Sullivan, who will start on Friday. Sullivan, who has a 5-4 record with a 2.10 ERA, was named the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week. The recognition resulted from his April 18 start against Saint Louis where he struck out 16 batters in eight innings.

Despite the threat that Sullivan presents, Cardieri said he would not change the rotation so that Austen could face Sullivan on Friday.

“We are going to stay with our rotation: Uhl, Austen and Rios,” Cardieri said. “We don’t necessarily do something based on what the other team is doing, we just do what we do.”

Houston beat Rice April 5-1. Rice, which was No. 1 in the nation on Baseball America’s Top 25, has since slipped to third place. Despite the slip by Rice, last week’s game showed what kind of team Houston is and what kind of competition the Bulls are up against.

“Houston is the kind of team that can beat anybody on any given night. I mean, that’s how it is with most of the good teams in the country,” Cardieri said. “This is who we compete against in our league. That’s how it is.”

Houston will not be the last of the tough competition for USF this season. After this weekend, the next two conference series will be against high-caliber teams.

Next weekend, the Bulls will face 26-16 TCU, which ranks second in the C-USA standings.

On the weekend of May 9, USF will travel to play Southern Miss (30-10), which is No. 22 in Baseball America’s Top 25.

“This is Conference USA. Welcome to it,” Cardieri said. “This is what we have to do every weekend.”

After those two games, the Bulls, who are stuck in the middle of the conference standings, will only have one more conference series left before tournament play begins.

“(We) are in a pretty good state of mind, and at the same time, (we) understand the urgency,” Cardieri said. “If we have good weekends we’re probably going to be in the NCAA regionals. If we have bad weekends, we’re going to have to go to New Orleans and win the (C-USA) tournament in order to make it to the regionals. I think the players are aware of that.”

USF’s rocky road will begin tonight at 7 at Red McEwen Field. Cardieri said his team just has to play a good game of baseball and try to minimize the errors.

“It’s a weekend where you have to play good games of baseball,” Cardieri said.

“If you have one of those four-error games, or you walk a lot of people, you won’t have a chance. If you play good games of baseball, you will have a chance.”

Chris Wagenheim covers baseball and can be reached at oraclewags@yahoo.com