Looking ahead to USF’s final nonconference series

Redshirt junior Hunter Mink is the only pitcher who has started every weekend, recording five starts, 23 innings pitched and 27 strikeouts. ORACLE PHOTO/CARLEIGH BENEDICT

Conference play is creeping up on South Florida baseball as the calendar approaches March 31, but USF (8-14) will first have to take on Virginia Commonwealth for a three-game slate. 

Beginning Friday, the Bulls will aim to improve their record against the Rams (10-11) after struggling to log a weekend sweep all season long. Pitching was the main culprit of USF’s recent struggles, but it has shown large improvement in the last couple of weeks.

USF has a significantly lower earned run average than VCU, putting the Bulls at an advantage. The Rams currently hold a 7.29 ERA, while the Bulls sport a 5.89 ERA.

Some of the top contributors to the South Florida pitching rotation include redshirt senior Ethan Brown, redshirt junior Hunter Mink and sophomore Jack Cebert. 

However, this rotation will have to compete against a VCU offense that is generating almost seven runs per game. Within the VCU batting order is junior infielder Will Carlone, sophomore infielder Brandon Eike and redshirt junior outfielder Cooper Benzin. 

The three Rams currently lead the lineup in batting average, hits and doubles. Besides these top batters, the VCU offense is hitting a collective .266 average. They have also scored 38 runs in the last six games, while USF has only recorded 22 in the previous six. 

USF is coming into this weekend series with a collective batting average of .252, with junior infielder John Montes leading the order with a .304 average. Right behind him are five Bulls with averages over .270 that have played in at least 75% of USF’s games.

South Florida has a talented batting order too, but the lineup has recently either sputtered or started its rally too late in games. USF dropped a 5-3 game against No. 19 FGCU on Tuesday. The team’s three runs were all generated in the seventh inning. 

Last Sunday, South Florida also lost to Army 6-1. The Bulls were able to put up one run early in the second inning, but couldn’t continue the momentum for the rest of the game. If USF could attack offensively early into matches, some of its losses could easily become wins.

If there are two things that USF baseball has to prioritize before heading into this weekend, it’s cleaning up pitching and keeping steady outings while generating runs early on in the match. 

South Florida will begin its series with Virginia Commonwealth on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and Bulls Unlimited.