Bulls ready for showdown in Gainseville

The Bulls know they have one of their biggest series of the year this weekend, but USF’s attention is focused on turning its midweek misfortunes around.

Before their showdown for first place in the Big East with West Virginia this weekend, the Bulls will step out of conference today at Florida at 6:30 p.m., for a game that means a whole lot more than state bragging rights.

“(Wednesday) is a pretty big deal for us even though it’s not in the Big East picture,” said USF center fielder Ryan Lockwood. “It’s important for us to win these games. We haven’t done a good job with (the midweek non-conference games) lately. It’s an opportunity to get a win against a quality opponent.”

The Bulls have lost their last three non-conference games, including a doubleheader at the hands of FIU on Wednesday.

Despite their recent non-conference pitfalls, USF coach Lelo Prado said it comes down to a simple approach.

“We have to keep playing hard,” Prado said. “We didn’t do that last week (against FIU) and got beat twice. We played the game the right way this weekend and really had a chance to sweep.”

Junior Teddy Kaufman is expected to start tonight for USF.  Kaufman pitched well in his start Wednesday, giving up only one run in 5 2/3 innings while striking out five. Kaufman didn’t make it out of the second inning in a non-conference loss to Jacksonville on April 7.

“Good stuff or not, I have to put us in a position to win,” Kaufman said.

The Bulls (24-14, 12-3) have sole possession of first place for the first time in the Big East conference. USF joined the league in 2006.

USF is ranked No. 29 by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, its first national ranking since Feb. 26, 2007, when the Bulls were ranked No. 30 by the same poll.

USF and West Virginia shared the top spot in the Big East for two weeks before last
weekend, when the Mountaineers lost two games to Notre Dame.

Prado said it’s a nice position to be in, but complacency is something the team can’t afford right now.

“We have exams and a lot going on this week, so we must remain focused,” Prado said. “We have four more Big East series’ left, so we have to continue playing the way we’ve been playing.”

UF (26-14, 10-8 SEC) beat USF 12-2 in Gainesville last year and leads the all-time series with the Bulls 46-23.