Aside from going a perfect 3-0, you'd be hard pressed to draw up a better opening weekend for Mark Kingston's USF Baseball program.
The Bulls started the 2015 campaign against three teams; No. 17 Cal State Fullerton, No. 7 Louisville and Alabama State, all three of whom will likely be playing in a regional come May. USF ended the weekend 2-1.
Things got off to hot start for USF on Friday night against Cal State Fullerton. Jimmy Herget, tabbed as the preseason AAC Pitcher of the Year, got his season off exactly as hoped. The junior right-hander struck out the side in the top of the first, and punched out seven of the first nine hitters he faced. Herget only went five innings due to a high pitch count and received a no-decision. He finished with nine K's and exited with the Bulls trailing 1-0.
Like Herget, preseason All-American Thomas Eshelman of Cal State Fullerton was on his game. He sat down the first five Bulls hitters on strikes, before finally surrendering the eventual go-ahead runs in the sixth inning.
After a Levi Borders double put runners at second and third with one out, his brother Luke drove them both in with a two-RBI single to right. That's all the scoring the Bulls would need for the 2-1 victory.
We thought coming into this season that pitching would be the strength, and this weekend that proved true. Freshman Joe Cavallaro (1-0) and Tommy Peterson (S, 1) threw four scoreless innings in relief, allowing just one hit and striking out six.
The Bulls looked to take down their second straight ranked opponent in Louisville on Saturday on the same field Brighthouse Networks Field where USF was a 2-1 victor over the Cardinals in the AAC Tournament back in May.
Levi Borders crushed a two-run homer to left to put USF up 2-0 in the bottom of the first. But USF relinquished the lead in the fourth inning when the Cardinals scored four runs off Casey Mulholland (0-1) to take a 5-2 lead. Louisville tacked on two more after a two-run big fly to right by Black Tiberi in the fourth.
One of the positives from the game again came from the mound. USF Football player Tommy Eveld, who hasn't played baseball in seven years according to Kingston, tossed four hitless innings in relief. Eveld struck out five and walked four without allowing a run.
The Bulls were able to scratch across one more run, but still fell 7-3.
On Sunday, the Alabama State Hornets were the opponent and Bulls sophomore Brandon Lawson earned the start. The Hornets, just like the Bulls, had beaten Cal State Fullerton and lost to Louisville earlier in the weekend.
The finale to the weekend was an offensive outburst for USF. After striking out a combined 32 times and scoring five runs in the first two games, the Bulls erupted for 12 runs.
USF plated four in the first inning and never looked back. Every starter had at least one hit, highlighted by freshman Kevin Merrell's 3-for-5 performance. Merrell also drove in a run and scored three to cap off an impressive debut weekend. Luke Maglich and Daniel Portales each finished 2-for-4 with two RBI's.
Mike Farley (1-0) got the win in relief, tossing three innings and allowing just one run. Farley struck out seven hitters while walking only one.
Newcomer Ryan Valdes finished off the 12-4 victory by tossing two scoreless frames, while striking out three.
"What I told the team is we played three teams who will be in the NCAA tournament this year and we went 2-1," Kingston said postgame Sunday.
"Are there things we need to get better at? Yeah. But I think if most Bulls fans were to look at this weekend and know who our opponents were, and said would you take two out of three on the weekend, I think most people would've said absolutely."
The Bulls are back in action Wednesday against No. 5 Florida in the home opener at the USF Baseball Stadium. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. The Gators are the third top 25 team the Bulls will face in the first four games.
And it looks like USF is starting to get some notice nationally: the Bulls received votes in the NCBWA poll after their opening weekend performance.