Feeling tension on the mound

BASEBALL GAME TIMEUSF (15-15, 5-7) at UCF (22-11, 2-7)When: Tonight, 6:30Where: Jay Bergman StadiumTV/Radio: 1010 AM

A common theme for the University of South Florida Bulls (15-15, 5-7) and the University of Central Florida Knights (22-11, 2-7) is frustration as they head into the second game of their four-game series tonight at 6:30.

Tonight’s game will be the last played at UCF’s Jay Bergman stadium in Orlando this year, with the final two meetings between the teams taking place in Tampa on April 29 and May 6.

The Bulls have found it hard to maintain leads recently, as the bullpen has been struggling from top to bottom since the late March series against Georgetown.

Since that rough stretch started, the earned run average (ERA) of setup man David Torcise has ballooned to 6.23, while reliever Junior Carlin’s ERA has risen to 9.23.

Closer Shawn Sanford has a 3.65 ERA, but he failed to close out a three-run, ninth-inning lead against West Virginia on Saturday.

“The bullpen has been great this season,” USF pitching coach Lazer Collazo said. “We have been having problems since last week (against Georgetown), but that is bound to happen during a long season. Just like the offense, the defense and the starting pitchers are bound to have their slumps as well.”

Collazo believes that the Bulls pitching problems are not only in their mechanics.

“It’s more of an issue from a mental standpoint than from a baseball one,” Collazo said. “As far as what I’m doing with the pitchers, we just keep working hard and we will eventually be back to being as strong as we were before last week.”

Matt Stull – who is 2-0 on the season – will start for USF.

When the Bulls visited Jay Bergman Field last week, the Knights were in the NCAA’s Top 25 and looked to be College World Series contenders. Seven days later, things are much different.

The Knights have been hampered by their recent lack of starting pitching, as they have allowed 10 or more runs in five of their last seven games.

Freshman pitcher Cody Allen will look to turn things around for UCF tonight, as he makes his career debut against a USF offense that averaged nine runs a game against West Virginia and put up 17 during last week’s visit to Orlando.

UCF has also been struggling with runners in scoring position, going 14 for its last 72 (.194) during the seven-game losing streak, according to ucfathletics.com.

With UCF trying to not sink further in the standings and USF trying to make a playoff push, tonight’s game will be a pivotal contest for both teams.