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USF Baseball Hosts UConn in Final Series of Regular Season

The Bulls face off against UConn with one goal in mind: avoid Tulane to start off the conference tournament.

Nathan Bond

WHO: UConn at USF
WHERE: USF Baseball Stadium
WHEN: Thursday 5/19 (6:30 p.m.), Friday 5/20 (6:30 p.m.), Saturday 5/21 (1 p.m.)
RADIO: 1040 AM (Thursday-Saturday)

PROJECTED STARTERS

Thursday: UConn LHP Anthony Kay (6-2, 2.46 ERA) vs. USF RHP Phoenix Sanders (5-4, 3.87)
Friday: UConn LHP Tim Cate (2-1, 3.03) vs. USF RHP Brandon Lawson (5-4, 2.35)
Saturday: UConn RHP Wills Montgomerie (4-3, 2.88) vs. USF TBD

After taking two of three over the weekend against #21 East Carolina, USF baseball (23-28, 8-13 American) looks to keep the momentum going when they welcome UConn to town. After seven straight games against ranked opponents, the Bulls get a reprieve this weekend, but only a small one. UConn (30-22, 11-9 American) is Hansel hot right now, winning six straight games, including a sweep of UCF last weekend, and scoring 50 runs during the streak. The Huskies are coming off a 14-4 beatdown of Rhode Island Tuesday.

Shawn McGrath of The UConn Blog says that even with all the runs the team has scored recently, it could have been a lot more.

"The teams biggest weakness, by far, is hitting with runners on base. They have left 155 runners on in 20 conference games. On Sunday [vs UCF], they left 12 men on base, leaving the bases loaded three times and only scoring one run during those opportunities."

Bulls pitching will need to stay out of trouble if they want to avoid Tulane in the first round of the conference tournament. (They can move as high as the #6 seed if they win and get help from Cincinnati and East Carolina.) Thursday starter Phoenix Sanders has struggled in his last two starts, giving up ten runs, 19 hits, and five walks in ten innings pitched. Friday starter Brandon Lawson is coming off a strong eight-inning performance last weekend. While USF's starter on Saturday is unknown Joe Cavallaro has been the most consistent starter over the last couple of weeks. He kept the Bulls in it against Tulane in USF's last home series and went seven innings against East Carolina Sunday, holding the Pirates down long enough for the offense to claw its way back into the game and eventually win it.

The Huskies pitching staff is led by potential first-round MLB draft pick Anthony Kay, allowing opponents to hit only .214 against him and collecting 90 strikeouts in only 91 1/3 innings pitched. Closer Patrick Ruotolo makes comebacks difficult with a(2.00 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 33 K's in 27 IP. Friday's starter, Wills Montgomerie, is ranked 18th in the nation in strikeouts per nine innings with 11.5. McGrath said if the starters don't pitch well, the team usually doesn't play well.

With the Bulls facing two lefties in the series, expect outfielder Garrett Zech to slot into the two-hole in the lineup as he did well against East Carolina. Add in DH Luke Borders, fresh off winning the American Player of the Week award, and the offense looks ready to produce this weekend. When Kevin Merrell, Luke Maglich and Zech (18 SB) get on base, expect them to run and run often. UConn catchers are not good at controlling the running game, only throwing out 15 of 73 stolen base attempts.

The offensive threats for UConn are sophomore third baseman Willy Yahn (.318/.364/.448, 16 doubles, 34 RBI), senior first baseman Bobby Melley (.283/.406/.490, 9 HR, 46 RBI) and senior outfielder Joe DeRoche-Duffin (.266/.379/.578, 16 HR, 48 RBI). The Huskies haven't been shut out this year, but while they have plenty of pop, they lack speed. Only outfielder Jack Sundberg (16) has more than ten stolen bases.

Six is UConn's magic number offensively. When they score six or more they're 16-2, but only 14-20 otherwise. USF's starters must get deep into the game and minimize the use of the Bulls' wobbly bullpen to have a chance. Reliever Tommy Eveld is the only reliable option right now, and while he can throw two-inning outings, anything more than that is asking too much.

Saturday is Senior Day for Maglich and pitchers Michael Clarkson, Hayden Kelley and Brad Labozzetta.