Weekend series is a must-win

BASEBALL GAME TIMELouisville (17-13, 4-5) at USF (15-16, 5-7)When: Tonight, 7Where: Red McEwen FieldTV/Radio: 1010 AM

The Louisville Cardinals (17-13, 4-5) are coming to Tampa to face the South Florida Bulls (15-16, 5-7) in one of the most critical series of the year in Big East conference play.

The winner of this weekend’s series will climb up in the standings; the loser will need help to make the postseason.

The Bulls have nine remaining Big East games, and Louisville has 12. This series is the only time the two teams will meet this season.

This weekend’s series will also be a reunion of sorts for USF coach Lelo Prado, who coached the Cardinals from 1995 to 2006.

“Except for the three games this weekend, I cheer for (Louisville) all the time,” Prado said to gousfbulls.com. “(Louisville head coach) Dan McDonnell is doing a great job, and with my relationship with (Louisville Athletic Director) Tom Jurich, I always want to see the Cardinals do well – unless it’s against the Bulls.”

USF, which is 5-12 since March 18, is struggling to find consistency. Prado talked to the team about this before Thursday’s practice.

“We are struggling because we haven’t been playing as a team. We have been a bad baseball team recently,” Prado said. “(The problem is) pitching one day, defense on another, hitting is a problem most of the time. It’s not just one thing, it’s about a total team effort that isn’t there right now.”

USF assistant coach Tino Martinez – a former New York Yankee who won four World Series titles during his career – believes that “learning is easier to do in a winning environment” and feels that “when a team is struggling, the players turn their ears off and turn to their individual agendas.”

Martinez was optimistic about the team’s chances this weekend.

“The teams that continue to listen, the ones that continue to grind and believe in themselves and their teammates, are the ones that get out of that funk quickly,” Martinez said.

Today, South Florida pitcher Daniel Thomas (0-2, 3.63 ERA) makes his first start since an arm injury sidelined him for more than a month. Thomas made his first appearance against West Virginia last weekend as a reliever.

Thomas will take the ball tonight at 7 followed by freshman Randy Fontanez (2-2, 3.55 ERA) on Saturday night at 7. Freshman Derrick Stultz (2-3, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for the Bulls on Sunday at 1 p.m.

“Bottom line, this team has got to get tired of losing – it shouldn’t accept it. Once it does that, we will become a good team,” Prado said.