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The right track

Even though the baseball season is less than halfway complete, USF has begun a turnaround. While the rest of the school was on spring break, the Bulls – who started the season going 4-9 – were busy winning five of seven games.

Coach Eddie Cardieri feels his team’s pitching staff has been solid all season and that USF’s offensive turnaround has sparked the team’s recent success.

“We’ve stared hitting like we thought we could,” Cardieri said. “We think our pitching gives us a chance to win, and no pitching staff is any good without good defense. So we feel if we can pitch and play good defense, we’re going to have a chance, and hopefully our hitting will continue.”

Since winning six of their last eight games, the improvement in the Bulls’ batting shows in their averages. Before the turnaround started March 7 against Penn, the team was batting a dismal .242 collectively. However, the Bulls are now batting .295, which is fifth in the Big East.

“There’s a lot of guys up and down the lineup,” Cardieri said. “We’ve gotten great production from (junior) Ty Taborelli in the leadoff spot. (Senior) Kris Howell has been very consistent.”

Although USF still has a sub-.500 record, what matters most at the end of the season is how well the team does against Big East opponents. And after a three-game series against Connecticut, which Cardieri feels was a “tough opponent,” the Bulls are tied with Pittsburgh for first place in the Big East.

“It was a battle,” Cardieri said. “UConn is a good team, and we played a lot of young guys. All three games were a battle. All three games were decided in the last inning, and we were fortunate enough to win two of them.”

With conference play underway, USF has eight three-game Big East series to finish out the season, and Cardieri knows they won’t be easy games.

“I don’t know what to expect because it’s our first time around the league, but I do know they’ll all be battles,” Cardieri said. “This league is way better than people give it credit for. It’s a good baseball league. There are a lot of great teams and there are a lot of great players in the Big East.”

Cardieri hopes the Bulls will still be in first place when the season ends.

“The Big East is our vehicle to the NCAA Tournament,” Cardieri said. “I’d like to win the Big East (and) be the regular-season champions our first year in the league. We have that as one of our goals.”

The only way USF would be guaranteed an NCAA bid would be to win the Big East Tournament, but it still has several key non-conference games on its schedule.

“The midweek games are important too, in terms of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, and hopefully we haven’t squandered all those opportunities,” Cardieri said. “We still have a lot of goods ones coming up, like (No. 9) Florida, (No. 5) Georgia Tech, Stetson and Central Florida. Wins against those teams help to get you an at-large bid.”

Before the Bulls continue Big East play Friday against Seton Hall, they will host Vermont tonight, which is struggling at 1-9 and lost its first eight games – but Cardieri and his team won’t overlook the Catamounts.

“We just need to win,” Cardieri said. “We teach our guys to respect every opponent we play, to fear none of them but to respect them all.”