OPINION: To be the best, you have to beat the best
USF Baseball coach Billy Mohl stated before the season that the team will only go as far as the pitching staff will take them. I assume he thought the offense would also go along for the ride.
With a series win to open the season against Samford and a 6-1 victory over then-No. 5 Florida, USF baseball (3-4) was poised to put the college landscape on notice. That is until it went to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The Bulls took the weekend trip to play No. 5 University of North Carolina (8-0) and were swept, losing the first game Saturday and both games Sunday. The Bulls managed just six runs in the three-game series.
In fairness to the Bulls, seven games does not summarize an entire season.
UNC pitchers Tyler Baum, Gianluca Dalatri and Austin Bergner have expectations of playing in the big leagues after this season. UNC’s weekend trio of starters pitched against the Bulls and have dominated this season, striking out 43 opposing hitters in 20.1 innings. Mohl even said himself that these three starters have first-round potential.
If USF wants to advance past the NCAA regional, this is the level of competition it will need to excel against.
In a season filled with expectations that exceed far more than another NCAA regional loss, the Bulls’ offense is showing no signs of vitality and are averaging less than four runs per game. The pitching staff, on the other hand, has been not only steady but, at points, dominant.
The Bulls .228 team average is ranked 210th out of 291 teams while the staff ERA of 2.95 is top 50 in the country.
Freshman shortstop Nick Gonzalez leads the Bulls’ meager offensive-attack with a .300 batting average. The rest of the team has sputtered to begin the season, with only five players batting above .200. The amount of strikeouts is what has been most shocking.
In the four losses, the home plate umpire has sent the Bulls back to the dugout 10 times per game.
The senior-dominant offensive unit wasn’t supposed to be the weak link for USF this season. The question marks were to come from atop the mound, but the consistency has come from the young pitching staff, both starters and bullpen alike.
While it is said that the pitchers have the advantage over the hitters early in the season, Mohl could not have seen such a low offensive output in his crystal ball before the season. The Bulls flirted with a .300 overall batting average (.297 for the season) last year.
Even with their top two hitters, David Villar (.377) and Coco Montes (.336), being drafted by Major League Baseball clubs, three of the top six offensive players returned from last year. Kyle Phillips, Joe Genord and J.D. Dutka all hit for a .300 average or better. The senior trio was responsible for nearly one-third of the team’s total RBIs and 28 percent of the teams runs scored. This year they are hitting .286, .269 and .167 respectively.
The 3-4 start is likely not what the Bulls wanted through their first seven games, but there is plenty of time to get the offense into the swing of things. USF will play three-game series against Western Michigan, Liberty and Dartmouth before beginning AAC play March 22.