One year after a season that ended with a disappointing exclusion from the Big East Tournament, the USF Baseball team is still battling its 2011 demons on its campaign for a winning season.
A road sweep at the hands of Notre Dame (23-29-1) sealed USFs (25-29) fate last season, dropping them to ninth in the Big East standings and keeping them out of the conference tournament. However, the Bulls exacted revenge by winning a key home series against the Fighting Irish last weekend and are preparing to settle the score with Stetson (18-9) tonight.
The last time the Bulls played Stetson at home they walked away with a 5-2 win, but it came just days after Stetson served USF a crushing 9-1 loss on the road.
I think last year was a bit of a fluke, coach Lelo Prado said. Theres just so many things that went wrong last season but, you know, thats baseball. It happens. If it didnt, the Yankees would win it all every season, but they dont.
The two wins against Notre Dame put USF at 20 wins for the season, which is five games away from their entire win total from the 2011 season. With a 5-1 start in conference play, the Bulls seem to be hitting their stride at the right time, as conference play is beginning throughout the Big East.
Its awesome, we have a wonderful team, its exciting to be a part of this right now, junior outfielder Alex Mendez said. We heard before Fridays game that this is one of the best start that weve had in years, so its good so far. Weve been great pitching and defensively, and our hitting is starting to come around.
Consistent starting pitching was key for the Bulls in their series win over Notre Dame. The three USF starting pitchers, Andrew Barbosa, Joey Lovecchio and Derrick Stultz, combined to allow just seven runs in their 20.1 innings of work over the weekend.
I think theres a little competition among the starters, Prado said. Each one wants to outdo the other, so, so far so good. Now its a good start, but weve got to keep going and finish this thing the right way.
The presence of Barbosa, who pitched just 10 innings last season before he was forced to go through Tommy John surgery, has lifted the USF starting rotation, which struggled last season.
USFs rotation of Randy Fontanez, Matt Reed and Kyle Eastham combined to win just 14 games last season, and none collected more than five wins. However, USFs core rotation already has 13 wins this season, led by Lovecchios 6-0 record.
USFs bats have also come alive as of late, and its offense has carried the team to six wins in their last seven games. The Bulls have averaged seven runs per game in those six wins.
All the coaches work with us day in and day out to get our swings right, so all the credit goes to them for all their hard work, Mendez said, I think from top to bottom we have great hitting on the team, and, again, it starts with our coaches.
The Bulls look to continue their winning ways tonight at 7 against Stetson, which will mark the end of USFs 22-game home stand. They will then embark on an eight game road trip, beginning with a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats in a three game weekend series. That series will begin Thursday night with first pitch set for 6:30.