The 2015 USF Baseball season starts tonight in the same place where it ended at the end of May.
Only this year, things are a lot different for the Bulls. It was announced before the conference tournament last season that Lelo Prado would be moving into a different role with USF Athletics. Prado held the position for eight years, but for him it was time to move on.
That of course left USF without a head coach. Athletic Director Mark Harlan filled that vacancy on June 6th, hiring Illinois State head coach Mark Kingston to become the Bulls' sixth head coach in program history.
Kingston brought with him new assistants as well, including pitching coach Billy Mohl, hitting coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Current and volunteer assistant Chris Cates.
After a promising 7-0 start to the 2014 season, USF faltered down the stretch and finished 27-31 and 10-14 in conference play. The Bulls lost a whopping 17 games by two runs or less.
USF's pitching will once again be its strength this season. Jimmy Herget, American Conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year, will anchor the rotation as the Friday night starter. Herget went 8-6 last season with a minuscule 1.26 ERA.
On Saturdays the Bulls will send senior Casey Mulholland to the mound. In his first season at USF, the IMG Academy alum was 4-3 with an ERA of 3.65.
The Sunday starting job is still up for grabs. The candidates for it are Tommy Peterson, Mike Clarkson, Brandon Lawson, Tommy Eveld, Mike Farley and freshman Joe Cavallaro. Whoever doesn't get the job will most likely be used to bolster the bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen, the Bulls lost a couple of their key arms to graduation last year in Lawrence Pardo, now in the Diamondbacks organization, and Janick Serrallonga. To fill the void of those two, USF will rely heavily on Jordan Strittmatter to close games. Strittmatter had a strong junior campaign, holding opponents to a .163 batting average in 31 appearances.
For the Bulls to be able to make the jump and qualify for a regional this season, they need to be able to score runs. That's not exactly a groundbreaking statement, but when you look at the numbers from last season and couple that with the stat mentioned earlier (17 losses by two runs or less) it becomes a bigger point.
Shortstop Kyle Teaf, who is returning for his senior season, hit .354 and had an OBP over .400 last season and will continue to pace the Bulls from the leadoff spot. A bulk of last year's lineup is returning, and Kingston will be relying on many of the same guys to get the job done in 2015.
Players like Austin Lueck, Luke Maglich, Levi Borders and Luke Borders had decent seasons last year, but again they need to take a step forward in order for the team to take that step as well.
Some newcomers to look out for this season are outfielder Kevin Merrell, infielder Clay Simmons and pitcher Joe Cavallaro.
The Bulls start their season with the USF Opening Weekend Challenge at Bright House Field in Clearwater against No. 17 Cal State Fullerton, No. 7 Louisville and Alabama State before its home opener Wednesday against No. 5 Florida.