Bulls drop second consecutive conference series to Knights

Sophomore utility Bobby Boser (8) now has 10 homers for the season, tying redshirt junior Daniel Cantu for first on the team leaderboard. ORACLE PHOTO/CARLEIGH BENEDICT

For the last time in the foreseeable future, USF and UCF baseball met in Tampa as the Knights claimed a series win over the Bulls on Sunday.

Before coming into the three-game slate, the two programs were astoundingly similar in numbers despite their flipped records. South Florida (17-24, AAC 6-6) held a .280 batting average, a .972 fielding percentage and a 6.20 ERA while Central Florida (23-17, AAC 5-7) came in with a .287 average, .965 fielding percentage and 5.02 ERA.

Back on April 2, the Bulls won the series over the Knights with back-to-back wins in the Friday and Saturday games but dropped the potential sweep on Sunday. This time, USF started off Friday with a close 6-4 loss but then rallied to post a 14-8 Saturday. They ultimately fell once again on Sunday 11-1.

Redshirt senior Ethan Brown and freshman Lawson Gailey switched places in the starting rotation after Brown entered the injury list. ORACLE PHOTO/CARLEIGH BENEDICT

As the series began there was one thing that was apparent, the pitching rotation. For the first time since USF’s series against Northeastern on March 3, a new face was introduced into the weekend three.

Bulls coach Billy Mohl said he was upset about Brown being out of the rotation and knew that Gailey’s youth would be a huge factor going into the switch.

“We have one of our best guys out and you got guys who are thrown into roles that they’re not ready for yet. I thought [Lawson] Gailey did a really good job with the role that we saw and he just ran out of gas a little sooner than we would have liked,” Mohl said.

Freshman pitcher Lawson Gailey took over the Saturday slot for the Bulls due to redshirt senior Ethan Brown’s shoulder injury. With that, redshirt junior Hunter Mink moved back up to the Friday role where he first sat in the first three series of the season.

However, Mink hasn’t produced the same numbers over the last two weeks. At Houston on April 15, the pitcher gave up 10 runs in 2.1 innings pitched and allowed five runs in four innings of work against Central Florida on Friday.

Mohl said he wasn’t satisfied with the last two outings that Mink has been on the mound for over the last week.

“He had a bad week last Saturday too, so it’s not necessarily the day. He was really good the first Friday against Maryland opening weekend and he’s had two rough outings. He’s got to get back on track mechanically and mentally,” Mohl said.

Relief pitching settled the UCF offense with a solid effort by redshirt junior pitcher Tanner Mink and sophomore Austin Grause. Collectively the two recorded eight strikeouts and one run allowed. Even with a clean finish on the mound, USF still failed to come back with extra runs and fell behind 6-4.

Saturday showed to be the revenge performance however, with a high-scoring 14-8 win over the Knights. Though the pitching staff didn’t show the strength it typically holds with seven earned runs and five batters walked, the Bulls offense surely made up for it.

Together, the batting order produced five home runs, 14 runs, 12 hits and drew five walks. The 14-8 win showed the true power of the South Florida lineup.

All five of USF’s moonshots came in the first three innings of the match, which came from redshirt junior first baseman/outfielder Daniel Cantu, junior catcher Joaquin Monque, sophomore utility Bobby Boser, junior outfielder Drew Brutcher and freshman infielder Rafael Betancourt.

Hitting home runs is not foreign to Boser, with his 10th bomb going over the fence against the Knights. He said that his tools are what help him and his offensive power.

“I really tried to just hit the ball up the middle, stay up the middle and then work the opposite side of the field. I mean, pullside comes naturally. We got quick hands, so we got to use them. But the skill really comes in when you can poke the ball to the opposite side of the field and get those base hits,” Boser said.

Sunday showed another rocky start for the Bulls rotation, with sophomore pitcher Jack Cebert allowing four earned runs in four innings pitched, but still recorded seven strikeouts. An aggressive Knights offense and poor batting from the Bulls is what cost the Sunday series win.

Boser said coming off of a dominant win and then having a low scoring game was upsetting, but the offense needs to come together and stay positive mentally to stay consistent.

“I can’t pinpoint one thing but we really have to just keep our foot on the gas pedal. When we fall behind. We kind of get down, we started getting down in the counts, losing pitches that we should be hitting, and then it all fell down from there,” Boser said. “ We just got to stay up and stay on it and we’ll be good.”

With an 11-1 loss in the books, South Florida baseball has lost its last two series after winning the first two earlier slates in conference play. With that, USF stays at fourth in the conference standings behind ECU, Wichita State and Houston. UCF trails close behind.

When asked about what needed to be changed and smoothed over as the Bulls head into the thick of their conference schedule, Mohl just had one thing to say.

“Pitching,” he said.

USF will remain home for a midweek match against FGCU on Tuesday at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and Bulls Unlimited.