It wasn’t “two-and-que” for the USF Baseball team at the NCAA Gainesville Regional over the weekend, but it sure felt like it.
The Bulls were eliminated Sunday afternoon following a 6-4 loss to Bethune-Cookman, the same Wildcats team that USF defeated 9-1 on Friday in the regional opener.
“Tough day for us but at this point I’m focusing on the season as a whole,” USF head coach Mark Kingston said. “I want to thank my seniors for their leadership from day one, and I’m very proud of where this team and program are.”
With the loss, USF fell to 0-5 in Conference and NCAA Tournament elimination games under Mark Kingston. It was just the third win in 31 NCAA regional games for Bethune-Cookman.
USF took a 1-0 lead early when Kevin Merrell lined a solo homer to right field. But B-CU would respond quickly, putting up a three-spot in their half of the first inning, despite the ball never leaving the infield. The MEAC Champions added another two runs in the third.
The Bulls started the game with Noah Yager on the mound, but it was a staff day for USF from the beginning. Yager worked four innings allowing eight hits and six runs, four earned, while striking out just one B-CU batter. He exited after a 23-minute rain delay in the fifth inning with USF trailing 6-3. Carson Ragsdale and Michael Farley would pitch the remainder of the game for the Bulls.
Kevin Merrell was the lone bright spot for the USF offense, as he was responsible for three of the Bulls four runs including the solo shot in the first and a two-run, two-out single in the second inning that tied the game 3-3.
After three unanswered B-CU runs made it 6-3, the Bulls biggest threat came in the eighth inning when Merrell reached on an error and David Villar singled to put the two runners on with no outs. Bethune’s Joseph Calamita came on in relief, and despite his ERA of 6.45, the 4-5-6 hitters Luke Borders, Coco Montes, and Garret Zech went down in order on five pitches.
“I would never question in a million years these kids effort coming into this game, and I wouldn’t expect anyone who watches us intimately to either,” Kingston added. “These kids were playing until 12:30 in the morning last night, and if anybody that was with us pregame today saw that we were a lively, ready-to-get-after-it group.”
A 42-19 finish to the season is certainly an accomplishment, as it’s the most wins for the Bulls in 21 years. But results in both the conference tournament and the NCAA Regional were a bit short of expectations, though the luck and randomness of baseball were certainly a factor.
It’s a tough way to lose four seniors and Kevin Merrell (as well as possibly other juniors that are draft eligible players) but with a sophomore-heavy roster returning, soon an extended stay in the post-season should be forthcoming.