USF has slowly declined since its promising 7-0 start, as the Bulls finished the regular season below .500 for the first time since 2011, aided by winning only three of their final 13 games. Despite all of this, the team still has a chance at redemption in this week’s conference championship.
The AAC Championship, which begins Wednesday and ends Sunday, will take place at Bright House Field in Clearwater. This is USF’s last opportunity to salvage the regular season’s struggles.
The tournament will be played in a round-robin format split into two pools. This means each team will play each other in their own pool: Pool A includes Louisville, Rutgers, USF and Memphis and Pool B includes UCF, Houston, Temple and UConn. The winners of each pool will compete Sunday at noon for the title.
The Bulls (26-29, 10-14) finished fifth in the AAC, meaning they will play No. 4 Rutgers (29-23, 14-9) on Wednesday. USF will then play No. 1 Louisville on Friday and No. 8 Memphis on Saturday.
To win, the Bulls will need to leave behind this season’s troubles, which include leaving runners on base.
Last Friday against Georgia Tech (32-24), the Bulls’ inability to score runners came at an inopportune time. USF was shut out 3-0, leaving the bases loaded with no outs in the ninth.
USF finished with the second-most runners left on base in the AAC with 476 (8.6 averaged per game), behind UConn, which had 482. Temple had the fewest with 342.
Though the Bulls lacked consistency with their hitting this season, shortstop Kyle Teaf has been the exception.
As of last Wednesday, Teaf ranks 20th in the nation with his .481 on-base percentage. As of last Friday, his .347 batting average and 41 walks are second and his 69 hits are third in the AAC.
Pitcher Jimmy Herget (7-6) has been strong for USF all season, as the 2013 Big East Rookie of the Year right-hander continued his success in his sophomore season.
As of last week, Herget ranked 16th in the nation and first in the AAC with his 1.28 ERA, second with 98 1/3 innings pitched and third with 84 strikeouts.
On Thursday, Herget struck out nine through seven innings as the Bulls shut out the Yellow Jackets, 8-0. The victory marked coach Lelo Prado’s 250th win with USF.
The Bulls dropped Saturday’s rubber game, 12-5, but they have the opportunity to end the season on a better note when they begin play in the AAC Championship on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Clearwater. All games can be seen on the American Digital Network.