We've hit April, and the spring sports season is heating up. The USF baseball, softball, and tennis teams all had critical weekends as far as their NCAA Tournament chances as concerned. Let's dive in.
Baseball: Mark Kingston's first squad at USF is quietly starting to hit their stride. We figured this season would be pretty predictable: the Bulls can play with anyone on Fridays, when ace Jimmy Herget is on the mound, and would just as assuredly lose to anyone on Saturdays and Sundays. As it turns out, Herget's been struggling lately (I mean, Jimmy Herget Struggles are not like Normal Person Struggles-- he's posted a 2.90 ERA thus far, which is more than twice as high as his 2014 ERA), but the rest of the team's done enough to pick up the slack. Faced with a critical weekend series against top-40 RPI squad UConn, Herget gave up six runs in five innings and change in the opener as the Bulls fell behind 6-2... and then rallied to score seven runs in the last three innings to earn a stunning 9-6 win. Buddy Putnam was the hero of the day, with a two-out, three-run homer in the eighth inning that proved to be the game-winner.
After a 7-0 clunker of a loss for the Bulls on Saturday, the series came down to the Sunday game, which put JUCO transfer Ryan Valdes on the mound for the first weekend start of his Division I career. No pressure, right? Valdes went six innings and surrendered four runs, but the Bulls fell behind 4-0 early. Slowly but surely they crawled back into the game, but still trailed 5-4 entering the ninth. As fate would have it, the Bulls loaded the bases for Luke Maglich, and Maglich hit a two-run single to give the Bulls a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Just like that, the Bulls had stolen the series.
The progress that this team has made under Kingston is remarkable. They've already totaled 21 homers, which is more than twice the Bulls' total from the entire 2014 season. The pitching behind Herget has improved as well-- Joe Cavallaro (3-0, 2.25 ERA), in particular, has emerged as a solid Sunday starter behind Herget and Casey Mulholland. As it stands right now, the Bulls are on top of the AAC standings with a 5-1 conference record, and have reached as high as 20th (!!!) in the RPI. Those are incredible numbers, especially considering where this team was last season. These ninth-inning comebacks aren't exactly sustainable, of course, and the Bulls are likely still underdogs in the conference race, but there's no reason why this team can't be competing for an AAC title and NCAA Tournament berth late into the season, which is more than we expected out of them in 2015. The Bulls have a midweek game at FIU tomorrow before taking on East Carolina over the weekend, who are sitting at 3-3 in the conference and 99th in the RPI. Another series win would be invaluable.
Softball: The softball team also squared off against UConn this weekend, though a rainout on Saturday kept them from a chance to win their second straight conference series. The Bulls have been struggling a bit in conference play, so it was important to right the ship a bit against the Huskies... which sort of happened, depending on your viewpoint. The good news is they split a Saturday doubleheader, and had a chance to win both games: the Bulls eeked out a 3-2 win in the early game before falling 8-7 in the late game after tying the game with a remarkable six-running rally in the bottom of the sixth.
The Bulls have dug a bit of a hole for themselves in conference play, sitting at 3-4, four games behind conference leader UCF. That's a lot of ground to make up, but they're not out of contention for the NCAAs by any means. The team is still a reasonable 49th in the RPI, and they get a pretty ideal schedule to close the season: two weekend series against bottom-feeders East Carolina and Memphis before traveling to Orlando to take on the Knights in both teams' regular season finales. There are plenty of chances to build some steam before the conference tournament in early May, but the wins need to start coming soon.
Men's Tennis: Voodoo Five's official position on ranked USF teams is that we like them very much. The men's tennis team is ranked 22nd in the nation and is playing quite well, having recently embarked on a trip to Texas to play conference foes SMU and non-conferences foes TCU. The Bulls cruised past #39 SMU 4-1, including a victory from the 20th-ranked player in the nation, Roberto Cid, in the top singles spot. USF had a tougher match on their hands against #10 TCU, and fell valiantly 4-3. The results still boded well for the Bulls-- Cid and Sasha Gozun won the top two singles spots, while Oliver Pramming and Justin Roberts teamed up to win the top doubles spot. This team's got the horses to hang with the top teams in the nation, if not the depth.
The Bulls are currently 14-6 with a 3-1 record in AAC play. They'll be taking on Memphis at home this Friday at 3 p.m., and admission is free. Students: go check it out if you're around! I don't think I've ever done anything productive on a Friday at 3 p.m., unless sleeping counts as being productive.
Women's Tennis: The women's tennis team has had a tough regular season, and it came to a close on Saturday against Memphis. The Bulls were trailing 3-0 and fought back to tie the match at three apiece, but lost the final game and fell in a heartbreaker. USF finished their season at 4-15 with a 1-4 mark in the AAC. They're not done, though: the Bulls will head to Tulsa from April 15 to April 18 for the conference championships.