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USF must survive third-place UCF to maintain lead in AAC

The Bulls are heading into a crucial two weekends as the season nears its end and the conference tournament approaches.

USF finds itself atop the AAC standings at 10-5, one game ahead of Wichita State and two games in front its opponent this weekend, UCF.

The Bulls hold the second-highest team batting average during conference play in the AAC, with a .286 batting average. USF is tied with UCF with the second-highest number of homers hit during AAC play at 12.

The Bulls pitching staff has been impressive during conference play, posting a conference-best 1.77 team ERA. Tulsa’s 2.80 ERA is the next lowest team ERA during conference play.

The Bulls’ only shortcoming during AAC play has been defense. USF is tied with UConn for the third-most errors in the conference, each having committed 19 during conference play. Only UCF and Wichita State have committed more errors during AAC play, having committed 20 and 21 respectively.

If USF can hold on to its position atop the conference, it would finish with the top seed in the AAC Tournament – which will be held at the USF Softball Stadium from May 10-12. To do so will likely require series victories against both the Knights this weekend and Wichita State next weekend. Both series will take place at the USF Softball Stadium.

UCF holds the sixth-best batting average during conference play in the eight-team AAC at .238, ahead of only ECU and UConn. Knights batters have struck out 105 times during conference play this season – the highest total in the AAC, and well higher than the next closest team – UConn, with 81 strikeouts.

The Knights’ pitching has been largely average during AAC play. UCF’s team ERA during conference play is fifth-best in the AAC at 3.46. UCF is also fifth in the conference in runs allowed during conference play, having surrendered 65.

Despite the Knights’ relative mediocrity during conference play, UCF (8-7) finds itself in a three-way tie with Houston and Memphis for the three-seed in the upcoming AAC Tournament.

Things don’t get any easier next weekend for the Bulls against AAC newcomer Wichita State. 

The Shockers (9-6) travel to Greenville, North Carolina, this weekend to face ECU. Wichita State leads the AAC in team batting average during conference play with a .316 average. 

Wichita State senior Mackenzie Wright leads the AAC in individual batting average during conference play, hitting .532 in 47 at-bats. The next highest individual batting average with a similar number of at-bats is USF’s Astin Donovan at .396 in 48 at-bats during conference play.

Wichita State’s team ERA during conference play is also middle of the pack. The Shockers’ 3.32 team ERA during conference play is fourth-best in the AAC, one place ahead of UCF.

No matter which team claims the top seed in the AAC, whether it winds up the Bulls, Shockers, Knights, Tigers or Cougars –  or even if Tulsa or ECU (each 7-8) can mount comebacks – its likely opponent is almost assuredly 3-12 UConn.

The Huskies are last in almost every team statistic during conference play. UConn’s team batting average at .216, its team ERA at 5.12 and its .949 fielding percentage are all last in the AAC during conference play.

Two of UConn’s three conference victories came against UCF when the teams met in Storrs, Connecticut, April 7-8. The Huskies other AAC victory came in the second game of a doubleheader Sunday at Memphis. Both USF and Wichita State swept UConn during the first and second weekend of conference play respectively.

The AAC Tournament begins May 10 at 10 a.m. with the No. 8 seed playing the No. 1 seed. All games –  except for the tournament’s final game, which will air on ESPN2 – will be broadcast on the American Digital Network.