TAMPA – It’s a solid start. And that’s just what the University of South Florida’s baseball team needed.
Lelo Prado’s Bulls will gauge overall success on their ability to reach the program’s first NCAA Regional since 2002. The American Athletic Conference – with the likes of Louisville, Houston and UCF – figures to be a stern challenge.
But so far, the Bulls (4-0) have done what was needed. In season’s past, they have been tripped up by mid-week games, falling to non-conference opponents they should have defeated.
Wednesday night, USF won 5-1 at Florida Gulf Coast, following last weekend’s three-game sweep through the Best Bet Classic in Jacksonville, marking Prado’s best start since a 6-0 beginning in 2007.
USF can use some breaks – and it might have received a big one from the recent East Coast weather. The Bulls were supposed to open with a three-game home set against Maryland-Eastern Shore. But the opponent was snow-bound and couldn’t travel to Tampa.
Prado scrambled and found a tournament opening in Jacksonville. Instead of rolling to expected easy home victories, the Bulls registered three wins against respectable opponents – Liberty, Richmond and North Florida.
Sophomore RHP Jimmy Herget, the winner in a 2-1 triumph against Liberty, and sophomore LF Luke Maglich, who went 7-for-14 with five RBIs in the Jacksonville tournament, were named to the AAC honor roll.
“In order to be a regional team, we can’t lose games we’re supposed to win,’’ Bulls 2B Nik Alfonso said. “We’re setting the bar high. We know it’s a goal that’s attainable. …We’ve got to come out with a little vinegar in our blood and get ready for those weekday games.’’
The Bulls face Penn State on Friday night at 7 to begin a three-game home series.
Twice as nice
USF senior Shane Lewis was named AAC Field Athlete of the Week after breaking the school’s triple-jump record at 52 feet, 4 inches. Lewis was fourth in the Don Kirby Elite at the University of New Mexico. It’s the NCAA’s 11th-best triple jump this season.
His teammate, Matthew O’Neal, had set the school’s triple-jump record one week earlier at 51-5 3/4. O’Neal did set a personal best (52-0 3/4) while finishing sixth at the Don Kirby Elite.
After scoring 27 points at No. 11 Louisville on Wednesday night, men’s basketball senior Victor Rudd has 1,116 career points at USF. If Rudd averages 15.8 points in USF’s next five games – four regular season and one in the AAC Tournament – he will finish in the school’s top 10 all-time scorers. And that’s in just three seasons after his transfer from Arizona State. … Softball LHP Sara Nevins was named AAC pitcher of the week after going 3-0 with an 0.39 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 18 innings last weekend. USF (4-4) opens against Illinois State on Friday in the NFCA Lead-Off Classic in Clearwater. … Willie Taggart’s football team begins spring drills on Wednesday. The spring game is Saturday, March 29 at Raymond James Stadium.