Two players essentially saved the USF baseball team’s season.
Sophomores Josh LeRoy and Jim Cassidy combined for two home runs, five hits and five RBI in the Bulls’ 9-4 win over West Virginia (35-20, 14-13) on Saturday, which secured the eighth and final spot in the Big East Tournament beginning Tuesday in Clearwater.
At Bright House Networks Field, the No. 8-seeded Bulls will face the No. 1-seeded No. 19 Notre Dame (41-14, 21-5) at 8 p.m.
The two home runs, both career firsts for LeRoy and Cassidy, helped USF (23-33, 12-15) take two of three games from the Mountaineers.
“Everyone just kind of took turns doing something for this team,” coach Eddie Cardieri said. “Jimmy Cassidy, Josh LeRoy – everyone did what we needed. It was a great win for us because (WVU) is No. 2 in the nation in hitting, and we come here to take two of three because we knew we had to do (that).”
Amid rumors and some controversy surrounding the baseball team following an article published in the Wednesday’s Tampa Tribune citing accusations stemming from players unhappy with the state of the team and the coaching strategies from Cardieri, the team had been quiet for most of the week, but Cardieri stated the team had been “focused” going into the series.
After an 8-1 win founded on a strong outing by junior pitcher Casey Hudspeth, in which he struck out six in six innings and only gave up four hits, the Bulls dropped their Friday game 5-3. With Pittsburgh winning two straight at Georgetown, the Bulls either needed to win Saturday or have Georgetown win to make the tournament.
USF, a team batting just .189 over its past 10 games, got both, securing the win as a senior-less Hoyas (24-32, 10-17) defeated the Panthers (23-29, 10-17) as well.
“We actually didn’t know that until after our game,” Cardieri said. “We went out there knowing we needed the win – going after the win, not worrying about anything else.”
Indeed, Cardieri stressed his team was “concerned” only about the Mountaineers. Cardieri said he didn’t directly talk about the rumors and article surrounding the talks of his contract not being renewed because of the dismal first season in the Big East, nor did he use it as motivation to his players to get the win.
“I never even addressed it,” the 21-year coach said. “We went out the way we always go out. I wanted them to play the game for the right reason: to get into the tournament.”
Added Cassidy, “We really needed to get into the tournament. I knew they were such a good hitting team, and we need the pitching to come through for us.”
Saturday, sophomore Daniel Thomas got the start, giving up two runs and six hits, but struck out six through six innings. In the bottom of the ninth, WVU loaded the bases with no outs, but junior Chase Lirette pitched out of the jam, giving up only one run.
Cassidy spoke after the game on how the team was told the article would be coming out but Cardieri never mentioned it over the weekend.
“We knew about the article before it came out,” Cassidy said. “We didn’t really talk about it, but we always want to get the win. We do like the guy, you know?
“(Cardieri) told us the article was coming out, but he never really mentioned it before (the) games.”
Cardieri also said he doesn’t know what it will take to secure his job for next season but hopes USF and Athletic Director Doug Woolard will give him another chance.
After all that has been published and said about him, Cardieri can’t say for certain if the Tribune article motivated his players.
“I don’t know,” Cardieri said. “I can’t measure if this (weekend’s wins) had anything to with the articles. It’s good to see that we can (win against this team.) This was no easy series. There’s no reason to make excuses; (winning) is something we should have been doing all along.”