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Memphis eliminates Bulls at AAC tourney

Its regular season finished, USF now has the rest of the weekend to consider its postseason fate, and the rest of the millenium to contemplate arguably the most critical gaffe of the year.

The Bulls (33-24-1) stranded 10 of their own base runners and neglected a heady one for Memphis in Friday's 4-1 loss to the Tigers (37-20) in an American Athletic Conference tournament elimination game at Bright House Field.

As a result, Monday's noon NCAA Tournament selection show could be a fidget fest for USF. The No. 4-seeded Bulls possess a solid RPI (27) and a schedule ranked ninth nationally by WarrenNolan.com, but lost 10 of their last 16.

"Everything they ask you to do -- finish well in your league, play a tough schedule and have success -- we've done," said Bulls coach Mark Kingston, whose team was 8-14 against top-50 RPI foes as of Friday afternoon. "So we're going to go into Monday thinking that we'll get in."

If they don't, many Bulls partisans undoubtedly will reflect on the weirdest play of the year.

With one out, Memphis catcher Carter White on second and the score tied at 1-all in the bottom of the sixth, Tigers freshman Brandon Montgomery hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Kyle Teaf, who helped catch White in a rundown between second and third.

The play enabled Montgomery to move to second, then advance when the Bulls -- presuming the play was dead -- left third uncovered. When catcher Levi Borders moved several feet down the third base line, Carter dashed for home. The throw home to Borders was wide. 

"Apparently, our players thought there was time out, the umpires did not, and when you get in that situation the umpires have the final say," Kingston said. "It was very bizarre."

USF managed only one hit over the final three innings. Rangy Memphis senior right-hander Dylan Toscano (9-2) scattered seven hits over eight innings.

Times correspondent Jeff Odom contributed to this report.

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Men's hoops schedule taking shape

The 2015-16 USF men's basketball non-conference schedule came into clearer form Thursday, with three modest foes joining the marquee one.

The Bulls will host New Jersey Institute of Technology, Boston University and Albany as part of the expansive Basketball Hall of Fame Classic, which culminates with a game against Kentucky at Miami's American Airlines Arena on Nov. 27.

NJIT visits the Sun Dome on Nov. 16, followed by Boston University five days later. The Bulls host Albany, which has made three consecutive NCAA Tournament trips, on Nov. 24.

NJIT, which upset then-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor last December, finished 21-12 and reached the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. Once arguably the most moribund Division I program in existence, the Highlanders are expected to return G Damon Lynn, the program's first 1,000-point scorer.

Thursday's matchups come a day after the American Athletic Conference announced its men's hoops league pairings for 2015-16. USF will play home-and-home dates with every AAC team except UConn (home only) and Tulsa (away only).

The complete schedule will be announced at a later date.

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Bulls pair makes All-AAC first team

Bulls junior RHP Jimmy Herget and junior C Levi Borders, the likely starting battery in Tuesday's American Athletic Conference tournament opener, have been selected to the All-AAC first team.

Sophomore RHP Tommy Peterson, a River Ridge alumnus, made the second team.

Herget is among four players to earn first-team honors in consecutive seasons. He enters Tuesday's start against Memphis with an 8-3 record and 2.64 ERA. In 88.2 innings, he has struck out 101 and walked 32.

Borders, whose dad Pat was 1992 World Series MVP as Toronto Blue Jays catcher, is hitting .304 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs.

Peterson leads the conference in saves (15). Only one other pitcher in the league, Memphis' Nolan Blackwood (13), has more than 10.

The entire All-AAC team and individual award winners can be found here.

 

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Herget's last hurrah?

USF junior Jimmy Herget, a Major League Baseball draft prospect, could be wrapping up his final season in a Bulls uniform.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

USF junior Jimmy Herget, a Major League Baseball draft prospect, could be wrapping up his final season in a Bulls uniform.

If justice always prevailed in baseball, Jimmy Herget's start Thursday night would've stretched into the waning innings. That elastic right arm would've been cocked at myriad angles ranging from unorthodox to unsettling.

The lanky junior's velocity would've been crisp, his slider confounding. He might -- just might -- have been nudged by the audience into a curtain call.

Instead, he settled for just plain curtains.

What may have been the final home start of Herget's USF career also was arguably his flukiest. In a 25-pitch first inning, the Bulls' right-handed ace surrendered a pair of two-out, two-run home runs to UCF, forced an infield grounder to end the inning, then never returned.

An ensuing 107-minute lightning delay squelched any thoughts of Herget returning for the second inning, relegating a would-be command performance to a cameo.

"It's definitely sad, it's crazy that it's almost over," Herget said the following day. "But things happen, things can change, you never know what's gonna happen with the (Major League Baseball) draft and all that process."

Conventional wisdom says Herget's last college start -- home or away -- could arrive at any time. He'll start Tuesday when the Bulls (32-22-1), an NCAA bubble team, open the American Athletic Conference Tournament against Memphis in Clearwater.

As the sun sets on his third sparkling college season, it seems Herget has little remaining to prove at this level. On Friday, the Jefferson High alumnus acknowledged to the Tampa Bay Times he and his family have talked to "a bunch of people" regarding his future options.

"We don't know yet," he said, "so we'll see what happens."

Scouts have probably seen enough over the course of three springs to be convinced of his pro upside. In its 2015 AAC season preview, Baseball America listed Herget as the conference's 10th-ranked draft prospect.

He enters the AAC tourney with a 21-11 career record, 1.83 ERA and 251 strikeouts in 290 innings. Though maybe 170 pounds in a sopping uniform, he still touches the low 90s with his fastball, possesses an above-average slider and keeps hitters off-balance with his plethora of arm angles.

On Tuesday, he earned All-AAC first-team honors for the second consecutive year. All he seems to lack at this point is a triumphant exit. …

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Bulls seeded fourth entering AAC baseball tourney

USF's 5-4 triumph Saturday against UCF, coupled with Tulane's doubleheader sweep of Memphis, gives the Bulls the No. 4 seed in next week's American Athletic Conference tournament at Clearwater's Bright House Field.

The entire tournament schedule can be found here. The Bulls (32-22-1, 13-11), who possess a solid RPI (32 through Friday) but are 2-9 against top-25 RPI teams, entire the double-elimination event perched a bit more securely on the NCAA Tournament bubble after Saturday's proceedings.

With the triumph, sealed by a bases-loaded double play in the ninth inning, USF captured its first conference series in more than a month. The Bulls played all three games without Coach Mark Kingston, serving a five-game suspension following a postgame ejection last weekend at Tulane.

If USF wins one of its first two tournament contests, Kingston would return for the third game. 

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Bulls top Knights to even series

Though the first pitch of USF's game Friday against UCF was moved up five hours as a precaution against potentially nasty evening weather, the deluge still arrived in the seventh inning.

Courtesy of the the Bulls' bats.

Playing for their postseason lives, the short-staffed Bulls (31-22-1, 12-11) collected five runs off six hits in the seventh to pull away for a 7-3 triumph in the season's final series before next week's American Athletic Conference tournament.

The rubber match -- UCF won the series opener Thursday -- is Saturday at 1 p.m. The Bulls remain without Coach Mark Kingston, serving a five-game suspension following a post-game ejection Sunday at Tulane.

"(Kingston) talked to us before the game, said (we) should play as if he is here," said rightfielder Luke Maglich, whose single to center scored the first two runs of the seventh. "I think we have a good group of guys and were able to do that."

Luke Borders also drove in two runs in the seventh for USF -- which totaled 13 hits -- with a one-out double. Junior right-hander Ryan Valdes allowed two earned runs and five hits over six innings, with former Newsome High standout Michael Farley throwing a nine-pitch seventh to get the win.

The teams re-took the field Friday only 14 or so hours after the conclusion of Thursday's 12-9 UCF triumph, delayed 107 minutes by lightning in the area. Bulls right-handed ace Jimmy Herget, who threw 25 first-inning pitches when play was stopped and didn't return, said he "more than likely" will pitch in some capacity Saturday.

"We have to sit down and talk as a staff and decide what we're gonna do," Bulls assistant Mike Current said. "With the conference tournament next week and short rest, there are a lot of things we have to factor in here."

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Bulls, minus coach, fall to Knights

Arguably the most critical series of the USF baseball regular season began Thursday with Coach Mark Kingston absent.

For most of the evening, it appeared the rest of the Bulls might not show up either.

With Kingston serving the first of a five-game suspension, UCF pummeled Bulls pitchers for 15 hits -- including four early home runs -- in a 12-9 triumph delayed 107 minutes by area lightning.

USF (30-22-1, 11-11), which made things interesting with five ninth-inning runs off two UCF pitchers, must defeat the Knights today and Saturday to win its first American Athletic Conference series in more than a month.

First pitch for today's game has been moved to 2 p.m. due to concerns over possible inclement evening weather. If the Bulls can't rally for consecutive weekend wins, they likely will have to capture next week's AAC tournament in Clearwater to secure their first NCAA postseason berth since 2002.

Fortunately for the Bulls, right-handed ace Jimmy Herget likely gets a do-over today after a forgettable abbreviated outing Thursday.

Herget surrendered a pair of two-run home runs in the first before flickering skies in the area forced the delay in the middle of the first. When play resumed, Herget -- who threw 25 pitches -- was relieved by freshman Joe Cavallaro.

He found the Knights' bats as potent as they were before the postponement. Senior RF Erik Barber hit his team-best 10th home run, a leadoff blast to left field, in the third; and added a three-run shot in UCF's six-run fourth.

Kevin Merrell, Luke Borders and Dre Leal each had a pair of hits for the Bulls. Leal capped the Bulls' mini-rally in the ninth with a two-run, bases-loaded single to put the tying run at the plate, but Zac Gilcrease's infield grounder ended things.

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Bulls tennis team falls at Baylor in Round of 16

On a clear, mildly crisp evening in Waco, Texas, USF's 18th-ranked men's tennis team provided a hearty Hurd Tennis Center audience with doses of suspense.

It just couldn't provide a stunner.

In their inaugural NCAA Round of 16 match, the Bulls (21-7) fell to No. 2 Baylor 4-1 on the Bears' home courts. The defeat snapped a seven-match win streak for the Bulls, who won their second consecutive American Athletic Conference title last month.

The Bears (24-5) clinched things when Julian Lenz topped Bulls junior Roberto Cid 6-3, 7-5 at No. 1 singles. Baylor also got singles wins at No. 4 and 6 after narrowly capturing the doubles point.

The Bulls, who had dropped the doubles point once in the past three months, fell in a pair of tie-breakers at the No. 1 and 2 spots after the tandem of Cid and Ignazio Gonzalez-Muniz won at No. 3.

Senior Oliver Pramming notched the Bulls' only singles triumph, winning in straight sets at No. 3.


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USF coach Mark Kingston suspended 5 games

USF first-year baseball coach Mark Kingston began a five-game suspension Thursday night stemming from his post-game ejection after the Bulls' 4-3 loss Sunday at Tulane.

The Bulls began a three-game home series Thursday against UCF, and begin play in the double-elimination American Athletic Conference tournament early next week. Kingston will continue to run practices during the suspension, the school indicated. …

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Spivey, Wyckoff earn all-region honors

Bulls junior C Lee Ann Spivey and sophomore 2B Kristen Wyckoff have been named to the NFCA All-Mideast Region teams, with Spivey earning first-team status.

As a first-teamer, Spivey, who wrapped up her breakthrough season (.378, 10 home runs, 52 RBIs) at last week's American Athletic Conference tournament, remains eligible for All-America status. An All-AAC first-team pick, she led USF in eight offensive categories and finished atop the league in batting average and slugging percentage (.679).

Wyckoff, a Plant City High alumnus, earned third-team status after finishing second in the AAC in runs (45), triples (five) and stolen bases (25).

Her former Raiders teammate, UCF senior P Mackenzie Audas, made the second team. Audas, owner of six Knights career records, leads her No. 2-seeded team into this weekend's NCAA Tallahassee Regional.

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Baseball: Critical week starts tonight for USF

As NCAA projections go, it has slipped from the bracket to the bubble in the last three weekends.

Now, the bubble may be getting slippery.

USF's baseball team (30-21-1) enters tonight's game at Jacksonville having lost six of its last eight games, and its last four conference series. As a result, the only thing of which the Bulls have assured themselves is a winning record.

An NCAA Tournament berth? At this point, the Rays pitching rotation might be more of a certainty.

Entering the regular season's final week, which includes a three-game home series against UCF starting Thursday, the Bulls possess a strong RPI (28) and strength-of-schedule rating (20th, per d1baseball.com). While 2-9 against 1-50 RPI teams, they're 4-3 against those ranked 26-50.

But just how much will the selection committee weigh a team's performance down the stretch, or a strength of schedule? And speaking of the stretch, will the Bulls solidify or squander their NCAA aspirations during this pivotal week?

Of course, USF can erase all doubt by winning next week's AAC Tournament in Clearwater.

Meantime, they can soften doubt with a late-season surge beginning tonight. First pitch in Jacksonville is at 6 p.m. The game can be heard here.

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World of Bulls: Tennis thriving with global roster

The USF men's tennis team comprises players from nine different countries. (Not pictured: Junior Finn Meinecke)

Aimee Blodgett | USF

The USF men's tennis team comprises players from nine different countries. (Not pictured: Junior Finn Meinecke)

In a figurative and geographic sense, the NCAA Tournament's Round of 16 bracket may represent the only territory USF's men's tennis team hasn't charted.

Virtually every other spot on the map, from Denmark to the Dominican Republic, has been accounted for. Coach Matt Hill's squad, making an unprecedented tourney run that continues Thursday in Waco, Texas, comprises players from nine different countries.

The common denominator? "We all like tennis," Spain native Ignacio Gonzalez-Muniz joked.

"We have Russian, we have English, we have Spanish, we have German. We have quite a few languages," said two-time American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Roberto Cid, a Dominican Republic native. "I mean, there's people from everywhere on the team. There's no two guys from the same country; just one guy from the U.S. and everyone else is international."

All of which begs a glaring question: When did Warren Buffett start underwriting USF's tennis recruiting budget? It's a common misconception Hill handles deftly, as if it were the inquisitorial equivalent of a lazy second serve: Instead of scouring the globe for international talent, the talent comes to his back door.

More specifically, the state of Florida.

"It's a little misleading," Hill said. "Florida in general is such a hotbed for tennis, and a lot of people around the world move here and are trained by our coaches."

Cases in point: Cid moved to Boca Raton at age 13. Senior Oliver Pramming, a native of Copenhagen, Denmark, attended Saddlebrook Prep in Wesley Chapel. Sophomore Sasha Gozun, born in Moldova, moved to the U.S. at age 12 and trained in Sarasota.

The only true international recruiting job undertaken by Hill was on Gonzalez-Muniz. While a Mississippi State assistant, Hill was recruiting Gonzalez-Muniz's buddy, Axel Alvarez. He lost Alvarez to Oklahoma -- where he has evolved into the nation's top-ranked player -- but pursued Gonzalez-Muniz upon taking the USF job.

"Believe it or not, we have a pretty close team," Cid said. "We get along pretty well. Off the court, we hang out a lot. A lot of guys room together outside, so we get together a lot."

The chemistry manifested itself at the recent AAC Championships, where the Bulls (21-6) rolled to their second consecutive title; and at last weekend's NCAA opening round in Blacksburg, Va., where USF blanked Boise State and host Virginia Tech on consecutive days.

On Thursday evening, the Bulls face second-ranked Baylor on the Bears' home courts in USF's inaugural Round of 16 match.

"It's fun because you've got such different cultures, and to take a team like that and get them to come together as a group, you really have to be able to like, put aside cultural differences and personal differences and get down to the root of the person," Hill said. "And it makes it really fun when you can bring that together." …

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USF baseball loses its honorary captain

Honorary USF baseball team captain Nick Wolf (left), pictured with younger brother Scott, passed away Sunday after a valiant battle against brain cancer.

Photo provided by USF Athletics

Honorary USF baseball team captain Nick Wolf (left), pictured with younger brother Scott, passed away Sunday after a valiant battle against brain cancer.

The USF athletics family has lost one of its most inspirational members.

Honorary Bulls baseball team captain Nick Wolf, whose valiant battle with brain cancer stoked the resolve of many athletes at the school, passed away Sunday evening. He turned 11 on Easter Sunday.

"There are no words to describe our relief that he is not suffering or of our loss," his mom, Christina Wolf, tweeted late Sunday night.

Nick already had conquered the disease twice. In September, Christina Wolf reported via Twitter an MRI revealed no sign of cancer. A week before Christmas, she revealed it had returned to many parts of the brain.

At that point, treatment options were limited due to hemolytic anemia, a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed and removed from the bloodstream before their normal lifespan is over. He lost consciousness on April 12, his mom reported, but kept fighting another four weeks.

"Right about the time Nick came around, my dad found out that he had cancer," said Bulls 1B Buddy Putnam, whose dad, Will, is cancer-free.

"So (his presence) was a lot and I think I really, really enjoyed seeing him around and seeing Nick get out and hang out with us. He's meant a lot to all these guys, especially the older guys that have known him for two or three years now." 

Nick was diagnosed in first grade, but his battle gained local attention last February, when he and his younger brother Scott were the guests of honor during a pirate-themed promotion between innings of a USF-Penn State contest.

The previous summer, he had joined the USF baseball family through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation's adoption program. A non-profit group, the foundation aims to improve the quality of life for kids and their families battling pediatric brain tumors.

"He's done more for not only me but this team than we could ever hope to do for him through the Friends of Jaclyn," said veteran SS Kyle Teaf, who with teammate Nik Alfonso continued visiting Nick at his New Tampa home in the waning stages of his battle. …

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Bulls nearly sweep AAC men's golf honors

USF first-year coach Steven Bradley, whose team led wire-to-wire en route to winning last week's American Athletic Conference Championship, has been named the league's men's golf coach of the year.

Bulls freshman Claudio Correa, who owns three top-20 finishes and the lowest average (72.07) among league rookies, was named AAC Freshman of the Year.

The remainder of USF's regular starting lineup -- Rigel Fernandes, Ryan Fricker, Chase Koepka and Trey Valentine -- joined Correa on the 14-member all-conference team.

SMU junior Bryson Dechambeau, who finished two strokes behind Fricker for AAC tourney low-medalist honors, was named Player of the Year.

Bradley, a University of Florida graduate hired last July 4 from Mercer, has led USF to four tournament titles and a No. 13 ranking according to GolfStat. As AAC tourney champs, the Bulls earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals beginning Thursday at Yale University.

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USF's Chris Perry gets medical clearance

USF rising junior forward Chris Perry has been medically cleared to play after missing the last 13 games of the 2014-15 season for an unspecified health issue.

AP Photo | Jessica Hill

USF rising junior forward Chris Perry has been medically cleared to play after missing the last 13 games of the 2014-15 season for an unspecified health issue.

USF 6-foot-8 forward Chris Perry, who missed the final 13 games of the 2014-15 season after being stricken with chest pains during a late-January practice, has been medically cleared to resume "normal basketball activities," the school announced.

A member of the American Athletic Conference's All-Freshman team two seasons ago, Perry was averaging 10.8 points and a team-best 7.1 rebounds when he was hospitalized in Hartford, Conn., the night before a Jan. 25 game at Connecticut. The school later announced he would be sidelined "indefinitely with a health issue."

The Bulls (9-23, 3-15 AAC) finished 2-11 in his absence.

"God took somehing from me for a period of time," Perry tweeted on March 27. "All it was was a lesson to go hard everyday(sic) because nothing is promised in this cold world."

 

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