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Bulls staying ahead in conference

USF baseball coach Eddie Cardieri knows it’s not going to be easy.

With the Conference USA tournament in sight on May 25, the Bulls have 20 games left to play. Most of the games are against conference teams, but three home games are against teams from two different — and difficult — conferences.

The A-SUN and the SEC.

On top of Stetson (23-15, 10-8 A-Sun) and No. 5 Florida (27-9, 10-5 SEC) featured in home games on April 26 and May 11, respectively, Cardieri knows how tough his team’s conference will be for the next 33 days.

And while midweek non-conference games are always a concern for Cardieri, he looks at a Tuesday match-up differently, including tonight’s game against UCF (35-8, 14-4 A-Sun), the third and final game of a three-game, three-week-long series.

“Weekday games are a good way to stay sharp,” said Cardieri, who is three wins away from 700 for his career as a coach. “We still just want to go out and play a good game. If we do that, like we always do, we’ll have a good chance to win.

“We played two close games with (UCF). They won the first two, but it would be nice to get at least one of out this.”

USF’s all-time record with UCF is slipping below the .500 mark, with two losses already this season — 8-7 on April 5 and 10-7 on April 12 — and now stands at 46-47, while Cardieri, in his 20th season as the Bulls’ coach, has more success versus the Golden Knights with an all-time record of 37-29.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve been sharp (on the weekday games),” Cardieri said. “I would say more like not running on all cylinders, but not playing bad, either. Just not playing well enough to win (those) games.”

Making his fifth career start, freshman and usual Tuesday starter Blake Tillett (2-1) — 4.95 ERA and 13 strikeouts — had little success in his April 5 start against UCF. The left-hander gave up three runs on six hits and struck out three for the no decision.

“You never know what will happen. It’s tough to tell how he’ll do,” Cardieri said. “He’s pitched well in the other times he’s gone out. If he can continue to pitch well, he’ll give us a chance.”

While Cardieri stresses that he and his team “will take it one game at a time, and focus on Houston this weekend,” he also realizes — like he has since the season began — how tough C-USA will be and how hard it is to make sure those cylinders are running smoothly all the way till the end of May.

“We’re looking pretty good in (the C-USA) league, but we still have a lot of baseball left,” Cardieri said. “It’s still one weekend at a time. I still think — we all do — that anybody can beat anybody on any given day. St. Louis beat Southern Miss. just this weekend.”

Cardieri just doesn’t want to look past this weekend against the Cougars (15-20, 7-7 C-USA), and while the fourth-place Bulls don’t face the last-place Billikens (7-26, 3-12 C-USA) this season, they do, however, face the third-place Golden Eagles (27-8, 10-5 C-USA) on May 13-15 at Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field in Hattiesburg, Miss.

“I don’t try to predict (where the team will finish at the end of the season.),” Cardieri said. “Never have, never will. My goal, every season, is to finish attop the league.

“Anybody can beat anybody. The league is just that good.”