TAMPA — The University of South Florida finished off an American Conference series sweep of East Carolina in dramatic, if not inspiring, fashion 6-3, as Bulls starter Peter Strzelecki turned in a career best performance, pitching into the ninth and striking out ten.
The win on Senior Day concluded the home portion of the Bulls schedule, after which they find themselves atop the American Conference standings. The Bulls are 37-10 overall and 12-6 in The American, a game ahead of Houston and UCF, with series wins against both, with a season-ending series still to come against UCF. They travel this weekend to UConn.
The USF Baseball Stadium has been good to the Bulls in 2017, winning 31 of 37 games at home this season. South Florida now must hit the road where they are 6-4 for the final eight games of the season, with more than just a nice win-loss record at stake, starting with the 5th-ranked Florida Gators on Tuesday in Gainesville.
As the leader in the American Conference, a 37-10 overall record, and an RPI of 23 as of today, the Bulls find themselves in at least the discussion for hosting a regional. That is not something even the most optimistic of prognosticators would have predicted to begin the 2017 season.
Last week in his College Baseball RPI Watch article, our own Joseph Healy speculated “if they win nine of their last 12 games, they can get inside the top 16 and really make it interesting from a hosting standpoint.”
USF has a 6-1 record against Top 50 RPI teams and will play seven games against teams that currently fall into that range, so the chance to strengthen their resume is there to be had.
Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball.com wrote about winning the remaining conference series as a prerequisite to any hosting possibilities. I personally land between the two. Win the conference series left on the schedule and one more midweek game and it will be hard to leave them out in regards to hosting.
Perennial hosting sites like Miami and Tallahassee (FSU) look like sites that will be skipped over for hosting in 2017. That leaves Florida (in Gainesville) as the only team in Florida to host, perhaps opening the door for USF.
It will not be easy for South Florida to win five or six of eight games on the road. It wouldn’t be easy for any program, but the opportunity is there and this team has not missed many opportunities this season.
“Next time we get a chance to play, let’s play to win, that’s been our mindset all year. The big goals, big distractions, we don’t let seep into what we are talking about or doing, we just try to win that day,” said USF Head Coach Mark Kingston.
The next chance to play is in Gainesville tomorrow.