Red-hot Bulls could take over first place in AAC over weekend

Shane McClanahan will be USF’s starting pitcher in the Bulls’ first game of their series against Memphis on Friday night. ORACLE PHOTO/THOMAS PRETTYMAN

No. 24 USF broke into national polls for the first time this season earlier this week, but coach Billy Mohl refuses to let his team slip into complacency.

Last season, the Bulls lost five of their last eight regular-season games and lost four of six games in the American conference and NCAA tournaments. After being ranked for a majority of the season, the Bulls entered post-season play unranked and as the AAC’s No. 4 seed.

“It’s just a ranking,” Mohl said. “We were ranked last year and we saw what happened the last eight games last year. So the rankings don’t mean anything. We’ve got to keep moving forward and keep winning ballgames.”

After their 5-3 victory over Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday, the Bulls (27-14, 9-6) have won six of their last eight games, including conference series wins over No. 8 East Carolina and in-state rival UCF (27-14, 7-8).

Mohl says the recent success of the team comes from a group of veterans playing to their potential. Twenty-one of 30 players on USF’s roster are in their third year of eligibility. Last season, those same players were brand new.

“They’ve been playing good,” Mohl said. “They’ve been playing like a group of veterans with a lot of confidence. They’re feeling good about themselves now, so we’ve got to make sure we don’t get too high or too low.”

In the midst of a three-game win streak, the Bulls will have face their easy AAC competition of 2018, hosting as Memphis (14-28, 1-11) in their last home series at USF Baseball Stadium, starting Friday at 7 p.m. 

The two teams ahead of USF in the conference are Houston (25-16, 10-5) and No. 8 ECU (30-9, 8-4). This weekend, the Cougars and the Pirates will go head-to-head for the first time in the season, thus providing USF an opportunity to move into first place in the AAC should neither team sweep the other.

USF has played 41 games this season and is entering its final 11-game stretch. Players without experience often fall to fatigue this late in the season, but Mohl says he keeps the team motivated by reminding them how capable they are of a special season.

Last year, the Bulls were eliminated from the NCAA tournament after losing to Bethune-Cookman and Florida in the Gainesville Regional. Mohl sees the potential in his team this year to break through the first round of the tournament.

“You’ve got that carrot at the end of the rope you’ve got to just keep dangling out in front of them,” Mohl said. “We’ve got a chance to do some special things with this club and they know. They were there last year so they know what they want to accomplish and they’re hungry for it.”