Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
The USF baseball team begins Big East play this weekend as the Cincinnati Bearcats visit for a three-game series.
USF followed up their sweep of Florida A&M last weekend with a 6-2 loss to Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday night, dropping their record to 10-11. Despite two hits apiece from Chris Norton and Kyle Teaf, and a solid outing from Mike Clarkson (6 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 5 K), the bullpen couldn't hold off the Wildcats and the game got away from them.
Now the Bulls return home to begin Big East conference play as Cincinnati (7-10) comes to town for a three-game series over the weekend (Friday at 7:00pm, Saturday at 6:00pm, and Sunday at 11:30am).
The Bearcats are a young team, and three of their key hitters are freshmen. Devin Wenzel is batting .338, with three home runs, two doubles, 15 RBI, and a .500 slugging percentage. Woody Wallace hits .314 with 13 runs batted in, and Ian Happ is a .288 hitter who leads the team with six stolen bases. Veterans are also coming up big, such as junior outfielder Justin Glass who is batting .338 with 4 doubles, 2 home runs, and 13 RBIs. Cincinnati also gets offense from junior outfield Justin Glass, who has a .338 average, two home runs, and 13 RBI. The Bearcats can put runs on the board (although they did score a lot of them against the dead last team in Division I, New York Tech), so the Bulls' starters need to be on their game so they can deliver leads to the bullpen.
On the mound, the Bearcats have given up their fair share of runs this season. But despite a team ERA of 4.94, they are 7-0 when leading after seven innings. Senior right-hander Andrew Strenge is 1-3 with a 7.41 ERA, allowing 20 hits and five walks in 17 innings, but striking out 19. Redshirt freshman right-hander Connor Walsh (1-0, 4.01 ERA) has worked 24.2 innings, allowing 21 hits and 12 walks, and racking up 22 strikeouts. Strenge and Walsh attack the strike zone, which leads to K's but also gives their opponents plenty of pitches to hit. In the later innings, the Bulls may see sophomore right-hander Matthew Lathuras (1-0, 1.20 ERA), who has allowed only 10 hits in 15 innings of work, with eight walks and 11 strikeouts. Another freshman, right-hander Mitch Patishall, has worked 12 innings, allowing nine hits and seven walks and recording nine strikeouts.
The USF offense needs to crank it up this weekend. Chris Norton's average is up to .383 with three homers, and Austin Leuck is hitting .320. But the Bulls need some more hitters to step it up, like James Ramsay, who's only hitting .271.
Let's be honest. Cincinnati is not a good team, and USF needs to take full advantage. The Bulls have been wobbling around the .500 mark all season, often showing flashes of top-quality play and then following them up with moments where they look utterly lost. USF needs to take at least two out of three this weekend and get off to a good start in conference play. They cannot afford to give away games to teams they should beat.