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USF drops first game of final conference series

Shane McClanahan leads the Bulls' pitching rotation in strikeouts with 111 this season. He consistently starts for the team each Friday game. ORACLE PHOTO/THOMAS PRETTYMAN

After a 10-7 loss in their first game against the Bearcats, the Bulls face must-win games in their final two of the season in order to attain the best possible seed for next week’s AAC Tournament.

The Bulls (30-18-1, 12-9-1) are ranked fourth in the AAC, but their final ranking is far from determined. With five teams in the conference within two games of each other, including USF, this weekend will decide the seeding for the AAC Tournament.

The Bulls’ seeding could be anywhere from No. 2 to the No. 6 depending on this weekend’s outcome. The Bulls can still win the series against Cincinnati, which would guarantee USF no less than a No. 3 seed. The furthest seed USF could potentially drop is No. 6.

Houston (32-20, 16-8) leads the conference by three games and will clinch the top seed in the AAC if UConn (30-17-1, 12-9) wins just one game of three against East Carolina (38-13, 13-8) this weekend.

Despite the pressure of the final weekend, coach Billy Mohl believes his team can finish out the season strong — opposed to last season, where USF dropped two of three to UCF in the final series. Had they won all three games against the Knights, the Bulls would have entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed, opposed to being No. 4.

“We’re older, we know what to expect going down the stretch,” Mohl said after dropping a game to Florida last week. “We know what we’ve got ahead of us and (the team has) been through this before, so they know the drill.”

The Bulls traveled to Cincinnati (28-24, 12-10) to start the series Thursday. After having their midweek game against FGCU canceled due to unexpected weather conditions, the Bulls lost the first game of the series.

USF potentially needed the rest after an 11-inning rubber match against Wichita State that ended in a tie due to time constraints. The game lasted over four hours before being called a tie and the teams truly split the series with each team recording one win, one loss and a tie.

Looking past the regular season and AAC Tournament, Mohl expects his team to be one of the 64 selected to compete in the NCAA Division I Baseball tournament and says the team could go far into the postseason.

“I’m very confident,” Mohl said. “We need to pitch better, but our weekend starts always give us a chance to win, but we have to figure things out in the bullpen.”

Additional reporting by Josee Woble