clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

USF Athletics is ready to win, and it’s time to let them

The trauma of the past two decades is ebbing. What’s happening with the 2021 baseball team is a prologue. And it’s time to believe in the Bulls again.

Let us stipulate it’s unlikely for USF to be playing for national championships regularly.

That’s not a slight at all. Just a reality for a program that exists in the middle-to-upper-tier across all sports of the sixth-best conference in Division I. The Bulls only play 12 team sports and there are more than 350 D-1 schools, with most of those championships ending up in the Power Five conferences for revenue reasons. They have truckloads more money, history, donors, diehards, and everything else you already knew before you got sucked into loving USF.

But even grading on that curve, USF has mostly ranged from woefully inadequate to outrageously incompetent since the Y2K bug failed to destroy the program. There have of course been moments, but for the last 20 years most USF fandom has been more affliction than elation.

And if the words “did you know USF was once ranked No. 2... ” ever leave your mouth, I hope an irradiated sky laser eviscerates your vocal cords immediately.

Investing in Bulls athletics has been a recipe of frustration, anger, and heartache in whatever proportions you desire. It’s like a taco bar of ennui; some people like a lot of lettuce of exasperation, others more cheese of rage, and a few load up on the avocado of anguish.

But all ingredients are then wrapped in the Tortilla of Pain, and everything else is in your choice of quantity.

Misery, served buffet style! Call 1-800-GoBulls.

USF went from 1995 until 2021 without a regular season or postseason conference championship in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, or football. The archives here reflect why that remains malfeasance, and some of those responsible did things that were borderline criminal. But the Bulls somehow backed into some leadership that was competent, qualified, and gave a damn.

And here’s the thing: Susan Lucci eventually won her Emmy. The Dodgers did beat the Yankees to win World Series. Jerry West won 33 games in a row, and finally the Larry O’Brien. At some point, it turns.

This year USF women’s basketball team finally got over the hump. Twice. And I don’t think anyone deserved it more. Until three weeks ago they were my unequivocal choice for the USF Team of the Year. But a funny thing happened on the way to hanging the banners in the rafters of the Yuengling Center.

USF fans, slowly, started to believe. Not just in Jose Fernandez and his team, but in the future of the program. The indoor practice facility will now happen. A track team that existed solely as a storage closet for Title IX compliance is now competing at a high level. “Wait a minute, we CAN do this.” All the promises of what was to be steadily creeping towards manifest.

The 2021 USF Baseball team was picked to finish eighth in the American Conference, which isn’t ideal considering the AAC has eight baseball teams. To open the season, they were swept in a three-game series by the former USF Fort Myers campus. And that same team broomed them once again three weeks later.

They were not worth paying attention to, and with a young roster that seemed to have talent but needed to be developed, it looked like about 85% of the teams wearing Bulls on their chest in the 21st Century.

“We’re young this year.” “We’ll get better, just need some time.” “We need to get our kids in here.” Blah blah blah. All the exact things coaches and SID’s have spun at me for literally decades now.

The House of Horrors on 19 and Drew in Clearwater saw the sixth-place Bulls, who had already beaten expectations with a solid finish to the season, win the first two games of a double-elimination tournament for the first time in 14 years. That gave them a day off, and the chance to play a Tulane team that they had just beaten in the semifinals. The Green Wave had to win twice, and they got the first one with a 16-6 mercy rule beating.

This is traditionally where it goes sideways for USF. In some kind of heartbreaking fashion an agonizing loss happens, and the writers of this blog go to our Slack channel and rank it against the various torments of the past.

“Is this worse than blowing a 7-0 lead to UConn in the 5th inning and losing 8-7 on a walk-off wild pitch?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not quite as bad as blowing a 9th inning 7-1 lead at home in the last game of the season to miss the conference tournament.”

And it’s not just baseball: I can do this for every USF sport. All of them. You buy the beers, I’ll show you my party trick.

It’s why the trauma and pain of being a USF fan is completely understandable. I vacillate between shouting and weeping thinking about it. No fan base should ever go through this much tortilla. It’s almost incomprehensible. And I gotta be honest, there are times it gives me a physical and emotional reaction. The nausea when you know the guillotine hangs above. It’s not if you’ll blow it, it’s when.

The worst was men’s basketball being up 30 on Cal in the First Four in 2012 and thinking “man, if we blow this ...” UP 30 IN THE SECOND HALF!! There was no joy in Dayton, only relief.

With the 2021 USF Baseball season on the line against Tulane, Brad Lord went six innings scoreless, and rising legend Orion Kerkering shut the door. 7-1, later Green Wave.

But that was a potentially poisoned chalice as now the Bulls had to play C. Florida, one game for a conference championship and the NCAA Tournament. It was like being handed the cube in backgammon; it’s them, so the stakes are now doubled.

And when USF jumped out to a 6-0 lead, I was glad to be with friends and have fun at a game as the pandemic fades into our rearview mirror. We had some laughs, some beers, and it was a great chance to catch up with some people we’ve all missed during the worst year of everyone’s non-sports life.

But I could feel the sword on the neck again. I was already ranking where this lands on the scale of pain if USF blew it. Not quite Mitchell Wilcox fumbling in Oviedo, but ahead of the 2017 NCAA women’s basketball against Mizzou game where we didn’t switch on the cutter. Ask Nate, I was already in “how bad will it be” mode.

I unreservedly didn’t know how to have my brain process that it might end... well??

And I will not beat myself up for these thoughts either. My trauma is earned, as it is with so many people that have been in an abusive relationship with their alma mater. The parallels between a bad parent or significant other and what USF Athletics has done to those that love her the most for over 20 years are a little too tangible to be comfortable. Let’s just move on, but if you’re reading this it’s likely you know exactly what I mean.

Of course 6-0 became 8-7 just four innings later. But here comes Kerkering, here comes the trophy, and there goes the tortilla. I got a little verklempt. I think I’m entitled.

My day job is writing for a gambling-sponsored website so forgive me putting this in wagering terms, but everything after Clearwater became “house money.” That’s when you’ve already won more than you expected, and no matter what you’re going home a winner today. You’ve taken enough of the casino’s cash where even if you lose the rest of your daily budget, you’ll still be profitable.

If USF Baseball had lost two games in the Gainesville Regional by a combined score of 186-0, the season would have been a total success. They showed guts and heart and belief in Clearwater, and broke a curse that had hung over the program since leaving the Metro Conference.

USF never won a baseball title in Conference USA. Or the Big East. Or the American prior to two weeks ago. So the ring alone is worth celebrating. But if you’re gonna play the games in Gainesville anyway...

Hit the ball hard off a Gators team that folded like Ron Zook recruited them. Put a five-run inning on a Miami team early, and snatch their soul. There’s literally no pressure. House money always secures smiles, and that means the Bulls can begin to think positively.

USF went 2-0 to open a tournament for the second time in 14 years, and also the second time in seven days.

But here’s where it gets tricky.

When this Nick Gonzalez bomb got robbed with the first Super Regional in program history on the line, all the wounds came back.

At some point, the recovering alcoholic has to be able to walk past the bar without incident. I knew it. WE knew it. But somehow, and I can’t explain this other than pure feeling and intuition, it was time to stop giving into the horrors of the past. It was time to believe in the future of what this athletics program can and should become.

Mobile, Alabama’s Jarrett Eaton roped a two-run double the next inning against his hometown school. Kerkering threw 74 pitches across 4.1 innings, and gave it every scintilla he had until he just ran out fumes. Joe Sanchez picked him up.

And the team that was picked last in the American Conference makes history by being the first in program history to reach a Super Regional. At the University of South Florida.

They said “fuck your tortilla.” And we’ve needed teams at USF to say that for far, far too long.

There’s house money, and then there’s Lotto Money. When the Bulls put their heels on the third base line for the national anthem at UFCU Disch–Falk Field for the Super Regional, the only thing missing was a novelty oversized check. Nothing could go wrong from here. If losing 186-0 in Gainesville is ok, going down by quadruple digits in Austin would also be kosher. Failure was impossible.

It’s also why I wanted to be here. To see a young, exciting USF team play a series they absolutely could not lose. Yeah the scoreboard said 3-0 Longhorns after eight innings of Game 1, but that was fine. It was a tremendous experience being in front of the loudest college baseball crowd I’ve ever heard, and the Bulls acquitted themselves well. Just a couple of bat sport breaks didn’t go their way, and that happens.

I actually missed Daniel Cantu’s leadoff home run in the 9th inning. I was in the hallway getting ready for postgame media duties, but was really glad to see him circling the bases. It won’t be a shutout! Hooray!

And as Jarrett Eaton dug in with two out, I thought he might get a knock. Just felt like a Jarrett Eaton spot, and he ripped one to right center for a double. Well now the tying run is at the plate in freshman Drew Brutcher ... oh well, it’s really loud in here. Just make some good contact and use the experience to get better. Force the defense to make a play. And that would have been totally OK!

Instead we got the most clutch, non-USF, Fuck Your Tortilla moment in program history.

I had tears in my eyes holding the camera. The hair on my arms stood as straight as the foul pole Brutcher’s bomb flew past at six billion miles per hour. I didn’t even know where it landed, but a lot of planned fence in Texas was recently repealed, so the Rio Grande is very much in play.

It was everything USF has never done in my adult life in one flawless swing. And yes, it made some the pain of the last 20 years go away. It also brought so many of us the thing you’re supposed to want from sports in the first place:


The thing that’s been missing for the greater part of two decades for USF fans everywhere. The Bulls came through again after coming through after coming through. And that has literally never, ever happened before.

Last night USF gave up two runs in spots where there was nobody on for Texas and two outs. In the second, a flubbed ground ball to first should have been an out, and it led to a run. The same thing happened in the bottom of the ninth, as Nick Gonzalez couldn’t make a play on a ground ball to end the inning. The next batter is Eric Kennedy, who laces an RBI double to walk it off. Final score 4-3 Texas. It happens.

But if you call that a loss you’ve crossed over from merely expecting the worst from USF, which is understandable, to finding ways to suppress joy.

More than 7,000 screaming fans of the No. 2 team in college baseball went dead silent at home because a USF freshman put a ball into lower orbit. For a team that had very close to zero chance to be in this position a month ago.

If you can’t find joy in that, go root for Alabama football and the Brooklyn Nets and John Cena. Because you’ll never, ever be happy here.

But if you’re a USF fan, as tough as it might be, it’s time to try and stop eating at the taco bar. Because the new era of USF is going to burn it down right in front of you.

If you let them.