In the youth-based world of college sports, the most important aspect of any team is its maturity a trait that, at this point, still seems to be missing from the USF baseball team.
Just two days after sealing their fifth Big East victory and clinching a hard-fought series against Notre Dame, the Bulls fell flat in a mid-week grudge match with Florida rival Stetson, losing 6-2. USF was sluggish all night, and its offensive chances were few and far between. It seemed like the Bulls had reverted back to the inconsistency that plagued them at the start of the season.
In disappointing losses earlier in the season to North Florida, Jacksonville, Eastern Illinois, Lafayette and Bethune-Cookman, the Bulls showed tell-tale issues of an immature team. Problems like insufficient run support, inconsistent bullpen pitching and an inability to close out series were a major concern for USF.
Though it seemed like they had ironed out their wrinkles during their hot Big East start with a sweep over Georgetown, the problems were still evident in their slow start against Florida A&M on March 28, a game in which the Bulls recovered from a four-run deficit, and in Tuesdays loss to Stetson.
With 28 of 39 games at home to start the season, the Bulls (20-10, 5-1) had an opportunity to build an impressive season resume before beginning Big East play. Though they managed to reach 20 wins just five games behind their 2011 season total USF still lost games against lesser opponents, failing to take full advantage of a relatively easy opening schedule.
The Bulls have only played one road game this season, in Orlando against the nationally ranked Knights. In that game, the Bulls allowed UCF to score 12 runs before Daniel Rockhold provided an RBI that prevented a shutout long after the game was decided. The 12-1 loss is the only experience USF has on the road, a statistic that will change very soon.
USF is heading out on an eight-game road trip, which will mark the beginning of its stretch of 16 road games in the final seven weeks of the regular season. For the Bulls to have any hope of making the Big East tournament after missing out last season, they will have to show maturity in their play on the road.
Luckily for the Bulls, their inconsistent play out of conference hasnt diminished their impressive start in the Big East. At 5-1, USF is tied for first place in the Big East early on in the season, and is off to the third-best conference start of all time.
The return of pitcher Andrew Barbosa, who has 27 strikeouts in his last two starts, has strengthened USFs starting pitching rotation, a group that also includes Joey Lovecchio, who is 6-0 this season.
The Bulls will get a chance to test their maturity tonight, when they begin a three-game series against Cincinnati. First pitch for both tonight and tomorrow is at 6:30, and Saturdays finale will begin at 1 p.m.