Coach Mark Kingston approached his first season at USF with sensible confidence.
Before the season started, Kingston said his team was set up to “surprise some people.”
“We’re not going to make any bold predictions,” he said in January. “But we are going to say that we will play extremely hard, we’ll be a very smart team and we’re going to maximize our ability.”
Doing just that, the Bulls surprised a lot of people, making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002.
Accomplishing that feat almost didn’t happen.
The Bulls (34-26-1) were among the last four teams selected into the tournament, but nevertheless, their 13 years of waiting were finally over.
Though the Bulls’ tournament run was cut short Sunday when FAU defeated them 8-4 in the Gainesville Regional, the future looks promising.
“The team we had this year set the standard for how baseball should be played at USF in terms of effort, preparation and commitment,” Kingston said Sunday. “The names will change, but the standards that this team set this year is exactly what it will be moving forward.”
Kingston has rejuvenated the team’s mindset, and his impact can be seen in the numbers.
The team’s stats improved across the board compared to 2014, most drastically with the number of home runs.
Last year, nine were hit. This season, 32.
This increase is partly because of flat-seamed baseballs, which were introduced this season to spark offense across the country.
“Power is back in the college game, which I think is a major positive,” Kingston said. “Today, we came up on the short end of that. Last night’s game and today’s were very similar in that it was a home run that got us.”
A grand slam with no outs in the sixth lifted FAU over USF 6-4, in Sunday’s elimination game. The Owls tacked on two more insurance runs, ending the Bulls’ season.
USF never led in Saturday’s game against Florida and ultimately lost, 8-2. The Gators scored their first five runs on three homers.
The Bulls found success in their first game, a 5-3 victory over the Owls behind ace Jimmy Herget (10-3), who allowed two earned runs over seven innings Friday.
Senior Kyle Teaf and freshman Kevin Merrell drove in four of the Bulls’ runs with a combined 6-for-10 performance.
Veteran players and blossoming talent have carried this team to a regional.
USF Baseball will continue to evolve, but like Kingston said, the standard has been set.