For the second straight year, USF earned a No. 2 seed in an NCAA regional.
But, for the first time since 2001, the Bulls will be playing in an NCAA regional not hosted by Florida or Florida State.
After being sent to Gainesville in 2015 and 2017 for their NCAA regional, USF is headed to DeLand in Stetson’s regional. At USF’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show watch party, the Bulls’ excitement was evident when they evaded both Gainesville and Tallahassee. Against the three Florida schools who were hosting a NCAA Regional, however, USF was a combined 0-4 against Florida (one loss), Florida State (one loss) and Stetson (two losses).
“We were all really excited,” third baseman David Villar said. “We didn’t know if we were going to go to Florida or Florida State. Stetson is a little bit of a surprise, but we’re happy. It’s definitely something we can win.”
In fact, the news was so welcomed by USF that the absence of the words “South Florida” in both the Gainesville and Tallahassee Regionals brought on cheers at the Bulls’ official watch party at North 30th Pub and Grille in Tampa. The celebrations were almost as loud when USF was announced to be playing in DeLand.
“Nothing against Stetson — they’re a really good team,” pitcher Peter Strzelecki said. “We just feel confident going anywhere, but a change of scenery is always good.”
USF is coming off of its best performance in the AAC Tournament since the conference’s inception in 2014 – winning three straight elimination games before falling to UConn in the semifinal game. Prior to last week, USF had not won multiple games in a conference tournament since 2012.
“I think it’s huge,” coach Billy Mohl said. “This group of veterans — they had the monkey on their back last year, we didn’t get it off. We finally got it off. You’re going to see a real confident group out there with a lot of swagger this week.”
The Bulls open NCAA Tournament play Friday at 1 p.m. in the DeLand regional, taking on No. 3 Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys come into NCAA Tournament play on a six-game losing streak, having lost its final four regular season games before going two-and-out in the Big 12 Tournament last week.
Oklahoma State’s combined batting average is .259, which is tied for last in the Big 12 with Kansas State. The Cowboys’ pitching staff has not fared much better — posting a 5.58 ERA.
Despite the statistics put up by Oklahoma State, it finished the regular season second in the Big 12 at 16-8, one game behind regular-season champion Texas.
“I just know coach (Josh) Holliday does a really good job with his program,” Mohl said. “They’re always competitive. They play in one of the best conferences in the country. They’re going to be a challenge, but we should match up pretty well with them.”
The No. 4 seed in the DeLand regional is America East Conference champion Hartford. The Hawks come into the regional with the third highest batting average in America East, with a .269 average. Its pitching staff will enter NCAA Tournament play with a 4.84 ERA.
Hartford will face No. 1 Stetson on Friday night. The Hatters come into the regional on a 15-game winning streak, including four in the Atlantic Sun Tournament.
USF and Stetson know each other well, having played each other twice this season, and a total of 168 times overall. The Hatters swept the regular season series against USF in 2018, winning 5-3 on March 27 in Tampa and 5-2 on April 11 in DeLand.
“They have a really good pitching staff,” Mohl said. “They’re one of the tops in the country in every statistical category. But this time we get to face them with our weekend guys. We’re looking forward to that matchup.”
The winner of USF-Oklahoma State will face the winner of Stetson-Hartford Saturday night, while the losers of each Friday game will play each other in an elimination game Saturday afternoon.
The winner of the DeLand regional will matchup against the winner of the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, regional in a super regional June 8-10. USF has never been to an NCAA super regional.