With a three-way tie for first place atop The American standings entering play on the final regular season weekend, the scenarios for the USF Bulls (both good and bad) seemed to be limitless.
After a thrilling, comeback 7-4 win over the Knights on Thursday night to open the series, the positive scenarios were certainly the only ones of interest to Bulls fans after the team reached 40 wins for the first time since 1996.
Top-seed at the upcoming American Conference Tournament. A share, or sole-possession of the regular-season league title. Even a season sweep of the C.Florida Knights. All were well within reach for USF.
Instead they drove home empty-handed.
The Bulls finished the regular season with a mark of 40-15 and 14-10 in conference. They lost 9-1 on Friday night (we won’t attempt to recap that one for you) and then 3-2 in the finale, giving C. (38-18, 15-9 American) a share of the regular season American Conference title with Houston and the No. 1 overall seed in the conference tournament, set to begin on Tuesday. USF dropped a tiebreaker to UConn with the two teams deadlocked at 14-10, falling all the way to the #4 seed.
On Saturday afternoon, USF used three straight singles in the first inning to grab an early 1-0 lead. The Knights, though, quickly responded with two in the second inning and another in the third to grab a 3-1 lead.
The Bulls put two men on base with just one out in the seventh inning when a Kevin Merrell ground ball to first was thrown to second for a force out, but then chucked into left field by the C. infielder. Cameron Montgomery would score to make it 3-2, but after a dubious batter inference call and a strikeout, the inning ended and USF would not seriously threaten again.
I’d love to be more #MadOnline about all of this, but it’s sort of hard to be. USF is going to the NCAA Tournament, they finished the regular season with 40 wins, they defeated Florida and FSU on the road, and there’s not much difference being the #1 or #4 seed - just who they play the first day. They already beat C. four times this year, and Houston and UConn are on the other side of the bracket. The Bulls will be set up for a nice run here in the conference tournament.
Buuuuttt... the Bulls had a glorious chance at grabbing the number one seed in the conference tournament, a better chance of avoiding the certain doom of a Gainesville Regional, and most importantly their first regular-season title since 1996. And against C.! C.!!
The Bulls simply blew it.
USF will begin conference tournament play on Tuesday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. against the #5 seed Tulane in Clearwater. Here’s the entire double-elimination bracket with game times.