CLEARWATER — After running off four wins in the losers' bracket to reach its first Big East tournament championship game, the USF baseball team's hopes of a conference crown ended Sunday, as bullpen troubles cost the Bulls in a 7-3 loss to second-seeded St. John's at Bright House Field.
USF (38-22) led 3-2 in the sixth but with limited arms in the Bulls' sixth game in five days, St. John's (37-21) rallied to its second title in three years and a record seventh overall.
"We needed to score runs (Sunday), and I knew that was going to be a factor," USF coach Lelo Prado said. "(Friday) we had to use a lot of our big guns. … I don't want anybody to be happy with runnerup. I want to win Big East championships, and we want to get to Omaha (home of the College World Series) one day. It's a great lesson for these young men. They fought hard, and when you compete and play together, good things happen. That's what happened to us this week."
After winning just 25 games and missing the conference tournament entirely last year (only the top eight teams qualify), USF matched the program's best single-season improvement in 23 years this season.
Senior left-hander Andrew Barbosa, who also pitched Wednesday, lasted into the sixth and left with the lead. Despite the loss, he said this week was a great run for the seniors. "It's unbelievable. From the beginning of the season, we knew we had a great team," he said.
Pitcher Derrick Stultz and outfielders Jimmy Falla and James Ramsay made the all-tournament team, but USF couldn't get the trophy it wanted.
Entering with two on and a 3-2 lead in the sixth, reliever Andrew Loynaz hit the first two batters he faced, the latter with the bases loaded, then gave up a sacrifice fly for a 4-3 Red Storm lead. St. John's added two runs in the seventh.
USF is unlikely to command an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament of 64, with St. John's getting the automatic bid and co-regular-season champ Louisville expected to get in.
Still, Prado remained optimistic. "Thirty-eight wins, look around the country, there's not many teams with 38 wins," he said. "You're leaving it up to a committee, so hopefully we've done enough work."
FSU, UF, Miami host regions: The Seminoles (43-15), ranked No. 1 in Baseball America's last regular-season poll, will host one of the 16 NCAA regions for a 29th time. Florida (42-18) and Miami (36-21) will also host as play in the four-team regions begins Friday. The top eight national seeds will be announced today during the selection show at noon.
No. 8 seed wins ACC: Mott Hyde homered and Sam Dove had three of Georgia Tech's 15 hits as the Yellow Jackets (36-24) beat Miami 8-5 in Greensboro, N.C., to win the automatic NCAA berth and become the first No. 8 seed to win the ACC tournament. No. 6 seed Miami was selected as an NCAA host site, so the Hurricanes are in a regional.
SEC final: Ross Mitchell pitched five-plus scoreless innings and Mississippi State (39-22) claimed its seventh SEC tournament title with a 3-0 win over Vanderbilt in Hoover, Ala. The Bulldogs have won eight of their last nine and take the league's automatic bid.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.