USF closed out its final nonconference series in dominant fashion with a sweep against Niagara, extending its winning streak to five games and their eighth win in nine games.
With only two wins this season, Niagara (2-18) were overmatched against the Bulls (17-7). The Purple Eagles came in with a low .223 team batting average and an overall 9.51 ERA.
The Bulls have been off to a much better start this season going into AAC play. Last season they were just 11-12 going into their first conference series, and coach Billy Mohl knows where the improvements lie.
“Everybody’s a year older for the most part. So the experience factor plays a role in that last year. We were really really young,” he said. “We’re still young and we still got some young players in our lineup but last year helped those guys develop some confidence and you look at our walks, hit by pitches, and a much more patient offense.”
USF 9, Niagara 4
On Friday night, redshirt junior Orion Kerkering had another tremendous start in the first game of the series against Niagara.
Kerkering went seven innings with just one earned run and two hits along with eight strikeouts. Not only was it his longest outing so far this season, it also tagged on another win to his 4-1 record.
The former closing pitcher has eased his way into the starting rotation and has made a huge impact for the Bulls. Kerkering has a posted ERA of 2.06 with 51 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched.
Kerkering also received recognition of his outing by MLB and ESPN pitching analyst Rob Friedman, who praised the effectiveness of his breaking balls during the start.
“He’s more than a star, he’s an entire constellation,” the tweet read.
Offensively, the Bulls had a great day at the plate, tallying nine runs and 11 hits. Redshirt sophomore infielder Carmine Lane hit his seventh homer of the season and freshman outfielder Jackson Mayo notched his fourth.
USF 7, Niagara 1
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Jack Jasiak had a solid outing in his slow comeback to the mound. Prior to his start against Mercer on March 20, Jasiak hadn’t been present in the rotation for two weeks.
The ace pitched for five innings only giving up one hit and put up two strikeouts, extending his record to 2-0.
The bats enjoyed another productive day with a two-run shot by redshirt junior Roberto Pena. Redshirt sophomore Ben Rozenblum and sophomore Joaquin Monque each hit a double, driving in four RBI combined.
Monque has been finding his way into the lineup the last two series with his improved at-bats thanks to the help of associate head coach Bo Durkac.
“Me and Bo have been working a lot on trying to be more on time and more on plane with the ball,” he said. “I think that’s helped me a lot, be more selective with pitches, and then see the ball longer.”
USF 11, Niagara 3
The Bulls finished the weekend sweep with another high-scoring win, racking up a total of 27 runs for the weekend.
The pitching staff shined once again leaving Niagara to six hits and just three runners driven home. The Bulls started redshirt junior pitcher Brad Lord who contributed four innings and six strikeouts for the game.
The offense also continued their weekend rally with four runs in the fourth inning followed by an explosive two-run homer to right field by redshirt sophomore Daniel Cantu in the fifth.
The Bulls closed the series with an 11-3 win to take the weekend and finish on a high note before their last nonconference game.
As USF’s schedule pivots to stronger AAC opposition, Lord feels the pitching rotation is ready to face any challenges put in their way.
“Everybody’s been stepping up to the role when their numbers are called, they’ve come out to do their jobs,” he said.
USF baseball will finish nonconference play on Tuesday against Bethune-Cookman at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.