USF was hot, riding a 12-game winning streak into Gainesville for what could have been a solid matchup between two top-25 teams. Instead, the Bulls got bludgeoned by the Gators in a 12-1 loss, thanks in large part to 10 runs given up in the middle innings.
USF hopped out to an early 1-0 lead in the second inning when Anthony Diaz drove in Jimmy Falla. USF led by that count up until the bottom of the fifth inning, when starting pitcher Michael Clarkson gave up three runs of his own and came out of the game, The bullpen got rocked from there on out, allowing a total of nine runs to come across the plate (including two more charged to Clarkson) in the last five innings.
The clobbering the Bulls just experienced leads us to ponder whether the winning streak truly was a feat of excellence, or if it was really that big of a deal at all. The Big East isn't known as a power baseball conference, and though USF's conference opponents through the streak were among the top four in the conference, only Pittsburgh (RPI 59) would even have a shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament as of right now. It took them 13 innings to beat Stetson (RPI 191), and UCF (RPI 154) is having a major down year. The other series in that streak was against Alcorn State, who is among the bottom 15 in the nation in RPI standings.
Regardless of the quality of wins, the Bulls' 12-game winning streak is still pretty impressive. However, as it stands now, the Bulls have an RPI ranking of 96 (before last night's loss) and still have some major work to do. St. John's, the team who kept USF out of the tournament last year, comes to town this weekend, and USF can extend its first-place lead over the rest of the conference with a good series.
Three-game series against Notre Dame, Seton Hall, and Rutgers finish off the regular season, with various in-state opponents sprinkled in there. If USF can hold onto that top spot in the Big East standings until the end of the regular season, they may be in good shape to win the conference tournament. And if they want to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002, that may be their only hope.