Bulls fall short in Big East Championship

The USF baseball team was unable to continue its four-game winning streak in the Big East Tournament. The Bulls lost 7-3 to St. Johns in the Big East title game in Clearwater on Sunday a day after the USF baseball and softball teams combined to win four must-win games.

It seemed like the Bulls might keep their tournament hopes alive on Championship Sunday,giving up an early run for a 1-0 deficit, only to return with three straight runs to take the lead. The similarities would stop there, however, as the Red Storm didnt allow one rough inning to end their quest for a Big East title.

After a sacrifice fly from all-Big East Tournament team member Zach Lauricella gave St. Johns the early advantage in the bottom of the second, the Bulls responded the very next half inning, loading the bases and picking up three runs, two on an error on St. Johns Bret Dennis.

Three would be the limit, however, as Daniel Rockhold grounded into a double play to end the inning.

I thought we could bust it open for some more runs, but it didnt happen, coach Lelo Prado said. They made some great pitches. Theyre a great club and theyll be tough in a regional.

Southpaw Andrew Barbosa kept momentum with the Bulls on the strength of a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the third, but gave it back in the fourth when Lauricella struck again, taking Barbosa deep for a solo home run that made it a 3-2 game.

Things went awry for USF in the sixth inning, when two pitches hit batsmen and a sacrifice fly given up by Andrew Loynaz gave the Red Storm the lead. St. Johns sealed the game with the 7-3 margin when it scored three more runs in the seventh and eighth innings.

Prado said he didnt want his team to be satisfied with making it to the championship game.

I dont want anybody to be happy with runner up, he said. I didnt come here to be runner-up to anything. I want to win Big East championships and get to Omaha one day. Its a great lesson for these young men.

With the loss, the NCAA selection committee left the Bulls out of the tournament field, despite a season in which they improved on a dismal 2011 campaign by 18 wins, ending the season 38-22.

Entering the Big East Tournament, USF would have likely needed to win a Big East championship to get itself into the NCAA Tournament field. The Bulls found themselves opening on the wrong side of the bracket, losing their opening game to the Connecticut Huskies 7-2.

After two impressive wins over Pittsburgh and top-seeded Louisville, they took down the Huskies twice in Saturdays semifinals, putting themselves on the brink of history. USF was one win away from becoming the first school to win the double-elimination Big East Baseball Tournament after losing its opening round game.

Prado said he hopes the improvement is a mark of something special on the horizon.

Hopefully this will be the season that turns USF baseball into something special, he said.