God knows we've been waiting for this to happen for a long time, but USF might finally have a good baseball team. The Bulls ran their record to 7-0 with a three-game sweep of Penn State over the weekend at the USF Baseball Stadium. It's their first 7-0 record since 1982, which was also their first NCAA Tournament season.
After putting the hammer down Tuesday night against FGCU, a 5-1 win against a team that has given them fits lately, USF came back to Tampa to face the hapless Nittany Lions. The Bulls promptly dropkicked Penn State 19-1 on Friday night. Every USF batter either scored a run or drove one in, led by Buddy Putnam's 3-for-6 effort at the plate and Vincent Miniet's first collegiate homer, a golf shot down the left-field line. As good as the Bulls were, the Nittany Lions were awful. They committed six errors, including three dropped fly balls, and gave up a nearly-impossible 10 unearned runs.
Saturday's game was a bit more competitive, but the Bulls kept lighting up the scoreboard in a 11-7 victory. Penn State actually jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the third inning, but USF erased it in the bottom half with a five-run rally. Again it was a Penn State miscue that opened the floodgates. Taylor Skerpon missed a two-out grounder, which led to three USF runs, and then Luke Borders cranked a two-run homer to tie the score. The Bulls added three more in the 4th inning, two in the 5th, and one in the 6th to complete their streak of 11 unanswered runs. After the Nittany Lions got two in the seventh inning, Jordan Strittmater and Lawrence Pardo shut the door.
USF had to rally on Sunday to complete the sweep. Penn State took a 3-1 lead in the second inning and held it most of the way. Finally the Bulls rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh to erase a 5-3 deficit. USF loaded the bases with no one out, then got back-to-back RBI singles from Levi Borders and Austin Leuck. Michael Arencibia grounded out to short, but it was deep enough to score Luke Borders and give USF the lead. Like they did on Saturday, Strittmater and Pardo held off Penn State to finish the 6-5 win.
OK, maybe they haven't faced a murderer's row, but two things to consider:
1. North Florida and FGCU on the road are halfway decent wins.
2. They've usually lost a couple of these gimmie games in past years.
And yeah, it's early, but they're hitting the hell out of the ball (.338 team average, 19 extra-base hits, an .864 OPS) and pitching very well. Jimmy Herget has 12 innings in the books without allowing an earned run, Janick Serralonga has done the same for 7.1 innings, and as a whole the bullpen has pitched 28 1/3 innings and allowed only 5 runs. (The bullpen has to pitch more early in the season as the starters ramp up their workload, so their strong start has been very useful.)
The big non-conference tests this year are all going to be midweek games against in-state opponents. One comes on Wednesday when the Bulls travel to Stetson. The Hatters are a deceptive 2-5 after getting swept at Ole Miss to start the year. If USF can past that game, this unbeaten streak may last a few more games, with Columbia (who hasn't even played a game yet) coming in for a four-game series next weekend. This is all leading up to two games against FSU, making their first appearance in Tampa in ages, next Tuesday and Wednesday.