Sunday, December 17, 2017
Sports

Prado hopes USF Bulls hit it big in AAC baseball tourney

I told my players it's time for this program to get to a (NCAA) regional and compete for conference championships. We've got a beautiful facility, we've got good players and I can't accept anything less than that. We've got to raise the bar here.

— USF coach Lelo Prado, Feb. 7

TAMPA — Technically, the postseason remains in play for USF's baseball team.

A historic resurgence is only a hot streak away in this week's American Athletic Conference tournament. With steady pitching (which USF has had) and a timely hit or two (which it hasn't), the Bulls (26-29) could keep their outgoing coach in the dugout another week or two.

"They've known for two weeks now (the conference tourney) is our chance to get to the NCAA tournament," Prado said. "I think they're ready to go and they'll play well."

It's conceivable. Just not likely. A season that dawned with bold statements appears poised to end with a whimper. Instead of watching his team finally turn the corner, Prado (250-219 at USF) painted himself into one with his preseason assertion.

Barring a cannonball-style splash in pool play, the Bulls' appearance in this week's eight-team tournament at Clearwater's Bright House Field will be Prado's swan song. On Monday, he and athletic director Mark Harlan mutually announced Prado is stepping down to take an administrative role in USF's athletic department.

Would the change be occurring had USF performed better? Hard to say. Prado, 51, indicated he has been contemplating a retirement from coaching, and that the opportunity offered by Harlan only expedited things. But what isn't disputed is that he expected more from this, his eighth Bulls team.

A club Prado called the biggest and strongest of his tenure in early February enters late May last in the league in home runs (nine) and slugging percentage (.326). But far more telling than the lack of towering shots is the lack of timely ones.

USF has 17 losses by two or fewer runs, including seven by one run. The Bulls, hitting .260, have grounded into a conference-high 41 double plays.

"We're right there," said Prado, whose team has lost six of its past seven. "A couple of hits here and there and we've got 40 wins."

The pitching (3.44 ERA), behind sophomore ace Jimmy Herget (7-6, 1.28) and No. 2 starter Casey Mulholland (4-2, 3.13), has held up its end.

But the hits must start adding up.

"All those clutch hits y'all are talking about, I need a couple of those," Prado told reporters Monday. "It starts off with pitching. If we get good pitching and play good defense … the conference tournament's going to be a dogfight, but I think our kids are excited."

Awards: Herget, of Jefferson High, was the lone Bull named first-team all-conference. USF's Levi Borders and Kyle Teaf made the second team and Luke Borders was on the third UCF's Eric Skoglund was named pitcher of the year and Louisville outfielder Jeff Gardner was the player of the year.

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