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AAC down to the wire at season’s end

Kevin Merrell has started every game for the Bulls and is leading the team in batting average.

Three conference games remain in the regular season, and six teams are within two games of first place — USF being one of them.

Houston stands atop the standings, East Carolina is second and USF, Memphis, Tulane and UConn are tied for third. 

The race is tight in the AAC, but the Bulls (30-21-1, 11-10) look to gain ground when they wrap up the regular season at home against rival UCF (30-22, 9-12). 

The Bulls held onto first place for the first nine weeks of the season, but started slipping when they dropped two of three to Houston at the end of April. 

USF has lost seven of its past nine, including two games at Tulane (31-19, 11-10) this weekend. 

The Bulls broke open the series with a 12-0 shutout behind pitcher Jimmy Herget (8-2), but the Green Wave rallied in the final two games to take the series with a 5-3 win Saturday and a 4-3 win Sunday. 

Ryan Valdes (5-2) took the loss in Game 2, and Casey Mulholland (4-7) took it in Game 3.

Kevin Merrell remained consistent for the Bulls, as he went 6-for-12 with two RBIs and scored a run in the series. The freshman has started in all 51 games and leads the team in batting average. 

Merrell also drove in USF’s lone run in its 5-1 loss to No. 10 Florida on Tuesday.

“Kevin is a hard worker, and he’s gotten better and better since the day he got here,” coach Mark Kingston said in a statement after the Bulls fell in Gainesville. “We’re really happy with where Kevin is now, but we think the future is even better for him.”

USF concludes its eight-game road trip against Jacksonville on Tuesday at 6 p.m. before hosting UCF for a three-game series, beginning Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

The Bulls lost two of three to the Knights in Orlando earlier this month.

It’s crunch time for the Bulls, as these final games will determine the seeding for the AAC tournament, which begins May 19 at Bright House Field in Clearwater.