Finally some positive momentum with this thing! It was a very good Friday for USF athletics with the announcement of two solid football series, and then came more good news late that afternoon.
Both Jose Fernandez and George Kiefer got "Friday at 4:45'd" in a whole new way. USF's preferred coach-firing hour turned into a coach-extending hour for two of the most successful ones they have. Fernandez is responsible for virtually all the success the Bulls have ever had in women's basketball, including the program's second NCAA Tournament appearance and first tournament win this season. Kiefer consistently takes the men's soccer team to the NCAA Tournament and makes deep runs in the field, including two Elite 8's and four Sweet 16's.
Fernandez and Kiefer both want to be here and they both richly deserve these new contracts. In Jose's case, hopefully the hefty raise he received will put to rest any concerns of him leaving. Much like with Stan Heath and the men's basketball team, it would be very hard to do better than Jose if you had to replace him.
We're going streaking! USF baseball's win streak is up to 12 after they swept UConn in a weekend road series. The most fascinating part of this streak is how the Bulls have come through over and over again in crunch time. Eight of the 12 wins in this run have been by one run or in extra innings. There's some inherent luck involved, but there's also some strong pitching involved to keep them in games long enough to win them. The Bulls have given up three runs or less in eight of these wins as well.
The 7-4 win against the Huskies on Saturday took 15 innings, the longest game of the season. The Bulls rallied from a 3-1 deficit with three in the ninth inning, but Max McDowell homered off Lawrence Pardo to send the game to extra innings. The game stayed tied at 4 for awhile, and even when USF ran out of pitchers and had to turn to outfielder Alex Mendez, it worked out beautifully. He pitched an inning and a third of perfect relief, then became the winning pitcher when the Bulls scored three in the top of the 15th on an Anthony Diaz RBI single and a pair of UConn errors.
USF is now up to 26-14, and they lead the Big East with a 10-2 mark. A big test (and a chance to boost their fledgling NCAA Tournament resume) looms on Tuesday when they travel to Gainesville to face the surging Gators. After that, they return to Tampa for another pivotal weekend series, this time against St. John's.
The softball team visited their dear friends in DePaul this weekend and took two out of three from the Blue Demons, which is no easy feat. Kenshyra Jackson's three-run homer on Friday gave USF all the offense they needed, and Sara Nevins, who is a boss, threw a near-complete game one-hitter in a 3-0 Bulls win. DePaul bounced back on Saturday for a 2-1 win in eight innings to even the series.
Sunday's game was bonkers. Nevins (with a brief assist from Boss 2, Lindsey Richardson) and DePaul's Kirsten Verdun locked horns for a full 13 innings and threw a combined 441 pitches. Both teams had numerous chances to win the game as the extra frames piled up. USF left the bases loaded in the 8th innings, and two runners on in the 9th and 10th. The Blue Demons had runners on third base in the 10th, 11th, and 12th innings, but never pushed the winning run across. Finally in the 13th inning, the Bulls got two runs on a Lee Ann Spivey RBI double and a run-scoring single by Kourtney Salvarola. They needed both of them, because DePaul again loaded the bases and got one run back on a walk. But Nevins' 230th pitch of the afternoon was her last, as she got a groundout to third with the bases loaded again to end the game. USF won 4-3 and ran their record to 37-13.
The Bulls are 15-2 in Big East play, part of a logjam at the top of the standings that won't be completely resolved before the conference tournament. USF finishes their conference schedule this week with a doubleheader at Seton Hall on Tuesday, and a weekend series against Syracuse. The Big East tournament will be in Tampa from May 9-11, and then another NCAA Tournament bid likely awaits the Bulls.
It was conference tournament time for the men's and women's tennis teams, who both put in strong efforts but didn't quite take home the hardware. The men's team beat Marquette in the third-place match after losing to Louisville in the semifinals. The women made a run all the way to the finals, but fell to powerhouse Notre Dame on Sunday to take second place.
If there's a such thing as being on the bubble in NCAA tennis, both USF teams could be considered on it. We'll see if they get a chance to extend their seasons pretty soon.