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Harlan: AAC agenda bereft of bombshells

A year after bracing themselves for a tidal wave of NCAA upheaval (see autonomy, Power Five), the American Athletic Conference coaches and administrators who convene Wednesday in Key Biscayne will be wading through legislative ripples by comparison.

Transfer guidelines, possible freshman ineligibility and division structure highlight the three-day agenda at the meetings. Commissioner Mike Aresco, the 12 school presidents and ADs, and coaches in basketball and football are among those who will gather at the Ritz-Carlton.

Bulls AD Mark Harlan told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday he doesn't anticipate any major "headlines."

"It's more just our continual development as a conference and certainly making sure the two divisions are set to go," he said.

Those divisions were finalized with the addition of a 12th conference team (Navy), giving the American the requisite number of teams required by the NCAA to hold a conference championship football game. The title contest will be held at the home site of one of the division champions.

Also up for discussion will be recent changes in transfer guidelines, and perhaps the volume of transfers -- particularly in men's basketball -- in recent offseasons.

"There's all this pontification about it, but let's look at the data," Harlan said.

"How many kids really have transferred? How many requested waivers? This is the first year of that new rule where, if you do transfer, you can't get immediate playing time; you get a year tacked on at the end. How is that working? And should the graduate transfer rule be similar to that rather than immediate playing time?"

Freshman ineligibility, a topic that has gained steam around the nation, also could be addressed, though Harlan expects no imminent proposals on the issue. Cost of attendance for student-athletes, embraced across the board by the American, also will be reviewed.

Harlan said USF is in the "final stages" of determining its cost-of-attendance amount for full-scholarship athletes. Tulsa AD Derrick Gragg recently told the Tulsa World his school has finalized its student-athlete cost-of-attendance figure at $2,500 annually.

"We are going to be committed to doing it for our (full-scholarship) sports," Harlan said.

"The rest of our sports, right now we're working on that in terms of matching it up with our budget and what we're able to do. And also just making sure our financial-aid office and ourselves are just working together on that. When you don't have a kid on a full scholarship, how much is that person allowed? Those kinds of things."

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Remember the Titans: USF's first win may have been biggest

Irony dripped as steadily as perspiration Tuesday afternoon as the Bulls engaged in a series of base-running drills on their home field shortly after 1 p.m.

The perspiration was conspicuous. The irony? Not so much, though few could doubt its existence. From the moment the NCAA Tournament selection committee confirmed the Bulls had been among the last four squads chosen for the 64-team field, it became indisputable:

The Bulls were baking in late-May heat thanks to a frigid February triumph.

As fate and bracketology would have it, USF's first game of the season might -- just might -- have been its most significant. On a night that screamed for a parka promotion at Clearwater's Bright House Field, a trio of Bulls pitchers teamed for a three-hitter in a 2-1 triumph against Cal State Fullerton.

The Titans, who entered the game ranked 19th by USA Today, finished 33-22 with a top-25 RPI, earning one of the 16 region host sites. Considering USF made the NCAAs by the skin of its collective molars, it's logical to suggest that victory might have nudged the Bulls onto a bracket.

It certainly provided the club with an infusion of confidence.

"We looked at that opening weekend with three really good opponents thinking, wow, this could either set us back right out of the gate, or if we found a way to have success, could really catapult us," said Coach Mark Kingston, whose club followed the win against the Titans with a loss to Louisville (also a region host) and victory against Alabama State that same weekend.

"That first night with Jimmy (Herget) pitching as well as he did and us getting that big win against a nationally prominent program...I just thought that really set the tone for these kids believing that if we play good baseball, we can play with anybody."

Herget, who starts Friday's region opener against FAU in Gainesville, struck out the Fullerton side in the first inning. In five innings, he fanned nine and allowed only one hit. The Bulls took the lead for good in the sixth on Luke Borders' two-run single.

"That win was huge," SS Kyle Teaf said Tuesday.

"We were on the losing end of those one-run games...in the past three years for me, and to get over the hump this year as a whole -- and it started with that game -- it was a great start to the season and hopefully we can have a great finish too."

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Bulls back in NCAAs for first time since 2002

The roar of USF's baseball players, coaches and staffers inside a Selmon Athletics Center conference room just after noon Monday was accompanied by a collective sigh of relief -- 13 years in the making -- elicited by its beleaguered fan base.

For the first time since 2002, the Bulls (33-24-1) are headed to the NCAA Tournament.

Perched tenuously on the bubble after dropping 10 of their final 16 regular season games, the Bulls saw their name pop up on the Gainesville Region bracket slightly more than halfway into ESPNU's broadcast of the 64-team field.

USF was one of the last four teams in, according to the selection committee.

"It's just fun seeing your name up there after you put in the hard work," junior C Levi Borders said. "After three years you finally make it. It's gonna be a good experience." …

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Baseball: Assessing the Bulls' NCAA resume

The Bulls hadn't yet vacated the dugout after Friday's loss in the American Athletic Conference tournament's elimination round when Coach Mark Kingston began defending his club's checkered postseason resume.

"I feel very good about (selection) Monday," said Kingston, whose team dropped two of three in the AAC tourney.

"We're going to be ranked no lower than probably 26th, 27th, 28th in the RPI. We finished ranked (fourth) in the third-toughest conference in the country, and we have wins in the mid-30s. In my experience, that's good enough to get you in."

Such a resolute tone is exactly what one would expect from Kingston -- at least publicly. When your program sits tenuously on the bubble, you lobby for it with high certainty and minimal shame.

"If you take the name off of our accomplishments and say it's a top-28 team that finished (fourth) in one of the top three conferences, I've got to think those people will logically say that's a team that should play in the NCAA tournament," Kingston continued.

Still, all that assurance Friday isn't likely to diminish the anxiety on Monday. Until Kingston and Co. learn their fate on the noon selection show on ESPNU, they'll squirm and stir, fidget and fiddle.

All with good reason. A valid case can be made for and against the Bulls (33-24-1) to the committee. Assess the pros and cons and judge for yourself.

Why the Bulls will get in
* A solid RPI (32 as of Sunday afternoon, a tad lower than Kingston anticipated) according to Warren Nolan, the Joe Lunardi of college baseball

* A schedule ranked 10th nationally (per WarrenNolan.com)

* The American Athletic Conference is considered the nation's third-strongest league and therefore could garner three to four bids.

* An 8-14 record against top-50 RPI teams, including an 8-5 victory at Illinois (a top-five program) in March and a combined 3-4 mark against AAC finalists Houston and East Carolina

Why they won't
* Committees typically give strong consideration to how teams perform down the stretch, and USF lost 10 of its last 16

* The AAC has no representative on the tournament selection committee, though conference spokesman Chuck Sullivan says each league provides a de facto advisor to the committee. Memphis coach Daron Schoenrock serves that role for the AAC.

* Bracket busters elsewhere. In theory, every surprise champ in another league tournament swipes an at-large bid from the field. Example: Neither Rice (35 RPI) nor FAU (16), overwhelming favorites in Conference USA, made the tournament final, meaning both will get at-large bids and a surprise team will snag the conference's automatic one. In the Atlantic Sun, heavy favorite North Florida (45-16) also was eliminated. Will UNF (45 RPI) get an at-large at, say, USF's expense?

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Former Bulls star Shantia Grace arrested

Former USF women's basketball star Shantia Grace remains the Bulls' all-time assists leader.

AP Photo

Former USF women's basketball star Shantia Grace remains the Bulls' all-time assists leader.

Former USF women's basketball standout Shantia Grace, the Bulls' career assists leader and No. 2 all-time scorer, remains in the Pinellas County Jail following her arrest early Friday evening on a misdemeanor domestic battery charge.

Grace, 28, and her ex-girlfriend, 24-year-old Tabree Fort, both were arrested just before 7 p.m. Friday at 15616 Avalon Ave. 1 in Clearwater.

According to an arrest affidavit, Grace arrived at the residence, which she once shared with Fort, to pick up the remainder of her belongings. A verbal dispute ensued, and Grace said she was pushed by Fort while attempting to retrieve her property, the affidavit states.

Grace advised she and Fort then engaged in a physical fight in which they hit each other several times with closed fists and grabbed each other by the hair. Grace stated she also bit Fort, according to the affidavit.

The career scoring leader -- boy or girls -- at Sarasota's Riverview High upon her 2005 graduation, Grace was considered the most decorated recruit in USF women's history upon her arrival to Tampa. …

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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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