After taking down both UF and Miami on Friday and Saturday, respectively, the USF baseball team needs just one more win to secure its first Super Regional appearance in program history.
The Bulls (30-27, 14-14 AAC) have been in this position twice before, in 1986 and 2002, playing in a regional final with Super Regional aspirations still alive. Both times, however, they were the team in need of two wins.
This time, the Bulls are in the driver’s seat and need one victory over either South Alabama (34-21, 15-9 SBC) or Miami (33-20, 20-15 ACC), depending on which team wins the early game Sunday.
“It’s two really good teams going at it,” coach Billy Mohl said in a press conference Sunday morning. “Obviously South Alabama put up 19 runs against Florida yesterday, and Miami is a national contender for Omaha every year.
“It’s playoff baseball, specifically it’s the game of baseball so anybody can beat anybody on any given day.”
Saturday’s win over UF marked USF’s seventh victory in its past eight games and earned the Bulls a spot in the winner’s bracket to go up against Miami, whom they beat handily 10-2.
The Bulls started their game against the Canes strong with an RBI popout from redshirt junior Jake Sullivan that scored redshirt junior Riley Hogan from third base in the first inning to give USF the early lead.
Miami matched with a run in the next frame, but USF opened the game up in the fourth inning as they knocked in four runs.
The inning, however, was not normal. A rain delay caused both teams to sit idle for over an hour.
“Our guys are used to delays all year long,” Mohl said. “Whether it’s in between a doubleheader or it’s the airport, whether it’s rain. They’ve been tested.
“[The rain delay] didn’t affect us at all, [the players] just want to get out and play.”
Just before the umpires took the teams off the field, Hogan smashed a two-run double that expanded USF’s lead from two to four runs. Mohl said keeping the teams on the field for Hogan’s at-bat despite the rain coming down was in the umpire’s hands.
“That’s the umpire’s decision once the game starts,” Mohl said. “But it was kind of déjà vu from a year ago, where we were down at Miami and I had Graham Hoffman on the mound and it was coming down in buckets and nobody pulled us off the field and we ended up losing on a walk-off home run.
“It was kind of our turn this time, and at the end of the day it’s the umpire’s call, they’re the ones who make the decision. It’s out of our hands.”
Across all of the games in the Gainesville Regional over the weekend, there has been approximately a total of five and a half hours of rain delay.
When the skies eventually cleared around 9:30 p.m., the game resumed and the Bulls drove in five more runs before the night was over courtesy in part to RBIs from freshman Nelson Rivera and redshirt sophomore Roberto Peña.
Redshirt junior Joseph Sanchez came in to close out the game’s final two innings and allowed two hits and no runs in his time on the mound.
“One thing you can always guarantee about Joey is he’s going to come in and throw strikes,” Mohl said. “Against a good offense like that you want the ball to be put in play, you don’t want to beat yourself with free passes.
“He’s a kid from down in Miami pitching against a team he grew up around, I was really, really happy for Joe.”
Miami is set to play South Alabama at noon Sunday, the winner of that game will be tasked with beating USF twice in a row, while the Bulls will just need one victory over whichever team they end up playing due to the regional being in a double elimination format.
USF has not played against South Alabama yet, but Mohl has been keeping an eye on all teams throughout the tournament.
“I mean we have scouting reports, we’ve watched video on [South Alabama], I’ve watched every game of this regional,” Mohl said. “[Coach Mark Calvi], he does an incredible job with those guys. They’re a pitching first team with a good offense who makes things happen.
“At this point though we didn’t see Tulane all year, [and] we haven’t seen Miami all year. Our guys are just going to go out and play their brand of baseball no matter who we play.”
Whether it be the Jaguars or the Canes, the Bulls will play in the regional championship game in need of just one win Sunday at 6 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN3 and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.