Bulls ready for Big East tournament

USF’s road towards a possible NCAA regional took a hit this weekend.

After being swept in three games by Louisville, it’s becoming more likely that the Bulls will have to win the Big East tournament to make a postseason appearance.

Sophomore Randy Fontanez is expected to get the call when the Bulls face No. 7-seed Pittsburgh in the first round of the Big East tournament Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

USF secured a No. 2 seed.

“We made our road a little bit tougher,” said USF coach Lelo Prado. “We’re going to face some good teams here in the tournament.”

If the Bulls beat Pittsburgh, who they swept earlier this season, they’ll face the winner of Connecticut and West Virginia. USF swept West Virginia at home, but lost two of three to Connecticut on the road.

Despite missing out on its first Big East regular season championship in school history, USF could earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament by winning this week’s tournament

“Everyone knows that each team is 0-0 going into the tournament,” said assistant coach Bryant Ward.

USF could’ve clinched the top seed in the tournament had they won just one game against Louisville.

The Bulls were projected as a NCAA regional No. 4 seed before the Louisville series began. After getting swept, it seems the only way for the Bulls to get a bid is to win the conference tournament.

“Can we do it? There’s no doubt in my mind that we can,” Prado said. “Having Randy out there helps.”

After resting against Louisville, Fontanez will start Tuesday. He leads the Bulls in wins (6) and ERA (3.16). Fontanez has also thrown five complete games this year. The Bulls have seven as a pitching staff.

Having the tournament in Clearwater seems likely to give USF a slight advantage.

“We should have a favorable hometown crowd,” Prado said.

If there’s any consolation to USF’s performance last weekend, it’s the fact they can use it as motivation for the future, Ward said.

“I’m not so sure our guys want to forget about this feeling (after last weekend), especially these young guys who’ll be in the situation again,” Ward said. “They still have an opportunity to win a championship. They need to learn from this rather than forget it.”

Pittsburgh is expected to send junior Nate Reed to the mound on Tuesday. Reed is
4-5 with a 5.86 ERA. The Bulls had success against Reed in their win over the Panthers earlier this year, scoring eight runs on 11 hits off the lefty.

The Big East championship is an eight-team, double-elimination tournament. Saturday’s title game will be broadcast on ESPNU at 1 p.m.

The Bulls played at Bright House Field earlier this year in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge, where they beat Purdue 7-5.