Bulls to test themselves against No. 2 Florida tonight

Fresh off its first conference series loss this season, the USF baseball team has a chance to bounce back and gain national attention in a game against a top team.

The Bulls will travel to Gainesville to play No. 2 Florida tonight. USF enters the game boasting the best record in the Big East, tied with UConn and St. Johns.

USFs conference success has been defined by the strength of its pitching, led by stellar seasons from core starters Andrew Barbosa, Joey Lovecchio and Derrick Stultz. Stultz led the Bulls to victory in the final game of the Louisville series on the strength of eight innings of allowing just one run.

Despite the recent series loss to Louisville, the Bulls have been able to rely on their bullpen for the majority of the season. As a group, the USF pitching relief staff has allowed the Bulls to boast a 7-3 record in games decided by one run or less.

The bullpen is led by first-year Bull Steven Leasure, who is enjoying a breakout season after arriving from Manatee Community College. The junior leads the team with a 1.04 ERA, and has allowed just 13 hits and three runs while striking out 12 in 17.1 innings of work. Leasure was sidelined with shoulder tightness during the Louisville series, and his absence was felt in Friday nights late-inning loss.

(Assistant coach) Chuck (Hernandez) said this week that this is the best bullpen that he has had since hes been here, coach Lelo Prado said. Hopefully we can get Leasure back and get things going again.

Prado and the Bulls hope to put the memories of their first series loss behind them with a chance to impress the nation in Gainesville tonight.

The Bulls havent seen Florida this year, but did play in Gainesville on opening weekend last season, when USF was swept. The Gators also came to play a midweek game at the USF Baseball Stadium last season, improving to 4-0 against the Bulls.

Its baseball, Prado said. In baseball, you play every day thats the beauty of it. We can forget about (losing the Louisville series), head up to Gainesville, and we know its gonna be a dogfight.

Though their matchup is important for recognition, the Bulls conference hopes would not be affected by a loss to the Gators. USF is tied for first place in the Big East and will play both St. Johns and UConn, the teams its tied with, in the next two weeks.

Theyre both pretty similar teams to us, Prado said. So we know itll be a dogfight until the end of the season. These next four weeks will be pretty important.

First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.