Cardieri going for yet another milestone

It could happen tonight, though no one may notice. Neither the fans, nor the team, nor the person it’s happening to.

700 wins.

USF baseball coach Eddie Cardieri has been coaching the Bulls at Red McEwen Field for 20 years. Since the 4-3 win over the University of Tampa on Feb 8, 1986, he has had 699 wins, nine NCAA postseason appearances — including one in his first year, in which he went 52-16 — five Coach of the Year awards and five regular-season conference championships.

But the St. Petersburg native had to be reminded about the milestone because supposedly it’s just a steppingstone in his mission.

“The main thing is that our team is winning,” said Cardieri, whose all-time coaching record is 699-499. “We were playing well in Houston and we want to continue to keep playing well through the middle of the week.”

USF (24-21, 10-7 C-USA) faces Stetson (25-16, 12-9 Atlantic Sun) tonight for the third time this season, and for the second and final time at home. The Hatters and the Bulls have split the first two games — a 7-6 loss on March 8 and a 6-0 win on March 29 — and will meet for the fourth time at Melching Field on May 17.

The two teams have met on the field since the team’s first year of existence in 1966, when USF went 4-11, and even won 5-3 in the second meeting on April 2, 1966, when the team’s coach was Beefy Wright.

Stetson and USF — the East Coast and West Coast teams, respectively — have a long history that may deserve its own course in Cooper Hall (USF leads the all-time series at 70-69), but Cardieri has coached 80 games against the Hatters, notching 45 wins to the 699.

“It just shows you the longevity it takes and the support from the Athletic Department to get those amount of wins. If the Lord keeps you healthy enough to do your job, those wins just come, and I don’t have anything personal in (the 700th) win for me, just our team.”

Though there have been many wins for Cardieri, he sometimes loses track. He certainly wishes some more of the 499 losses would be wins, but still keeps milestones in a special place in his heart — and to himself.

“(That first win) is always real special because it was my first win in Division I,” Cardieri said of the season-opening win in 1986 against Tampa. “To tell you the truth, I don’t remember who the opponent was. I don’t even know if (my players) are cognizant of it. (The 700th win) shouldn’t even be important to them at all. Hopefully we can get ahead of Stetson on the series on the year.

“I would never use my career milestones for motivation (for the players), ever. Never, never, never, ever. Our games are always about getting to the next step: the conference tournament.”

Tonight, Cardieri’s 1,198th game as head coach, will pose many questions. The Bulls still have nagging injuries, limited use of many starters and, after a long weekend road trip against the Houston Cougars (18-21, 9-8 C-USA), will have a game time decision — as well as the Hatters — on who will start on the mound.

The two likely candidates for the Bulls will be either Ty Pryor — sporting a 2-3 record with a 7.49 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 12 appearances — or Blake Tillett, who has a 3-2 record with a 5.13 ERA and threw only 19 pitches Sunday in his loss to the Cougars.