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Final series determines postseason fate

BASEBALL GAME TIMENotre Dame (33-16-1, 16-7) at USF (26-25, 11-13)When: Tonight, 7Where: Red McEwen FieldTV/Radio: Catch 47/1010 AM

Preseason projections are not always accurate. If they were, the South Florida baseball team would be in third place in the Big East going into this weekend’s season-ending series against Notre Dame.

The Bulls (26-25, 11-13), however, haven’t had the season that experts predicted. USF is tied for seventh place and may need some help to make it into the Big East tournament.

“Forget the Big East tournament,” USF coach Lelo Prado said. “We need to focus on winning games this weekend.”

The Bulls are just one game ahead of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (22-27-1, 10-14) in the Big East standings. If USF is to make the postseason, it needs to upset the conference’s No. 2 team.

Even though the Fighting Irish has clinched a berth in the Big East tournament, they will likely field the normal roster because they still have a chance to win the conference’s regular season title.

“This weekend will be pretty intense,” Prado said. “We’re playing for a spot in the tournament, but they’re playing for a conference championship, so they are playing for something too.”

Notre Dame (33-16-1, 16-7) will be a tough task for USF, as the Fighting Irish are second in the Big East in batting average (.316) and third in both RBIs (315) and on base percentage (.397).

As if the Bulls didn’t have their backs against the wall already, they will have to go into the series with out leading hitter Ryan Lockwood.

The redshirt freshman – who was on an NCAA-leading 30-game hitting streak – suffered a fractured bone in his left hand while sliding into home plate Saturday. He will likely miss the remainder of the season.

“Losing Lockwood is huge,” Prado said. “He was having a great season.”

In order to beat Notre Dame, USF will need to rely on the leadership of the team’s upperclassmen.

Senior first baseman Joey Angelberger and junior shortstop Addison Maruszak are two players Prado is counting on to lead the Bulls this weekend.

“Those two are going to be huge because they’ve been through this before,” Prado said. “We’ve got some good, young players, but I’m going to be leaning on those guys a lot this weekend.”

Angelberger has the third best average on the team (.323). He also has seven home runs and 42 RBIs.

“We’re going to have to lead by example,” Angelberger said. “It’s more of us just showing (our teammates) how to go rather than being vocal leaders.”

Maruszak – who is second in batting average (.354 ) – agrees that the two will need to step up and help the Bulls make the tournament.

“We are just going to show them that they can’t be nervous,” Maruszak said. “When I was younger, the older players just went out like it was any other game. We are just telling them to take this one step at a time and one at-bat at a time.”

The Bulls also have the added pressure of being the host team of the Big East tournament. The tournament – which begins May 19 in Clearwater – is weighing heavily on everybody’s minds.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve talked about pride everyday and the pride that goes along with wearing a USF uniform,” Prado said. “If we don’t get into that conference tournament, that’s a huge disappointment.”

Angelberger agrees.

“It would definitely be embarrassing,” Angelberger said. “For us to get to where we need to be, and for the University of South Florida to get to where it needs to be, we have to make it into that tournament.”