A bittersweet Memorial Day weekend for the Bulls already has featured one national title quest ending, and another forging ahead by literal leaps.
On a breezy, partly cloudy Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville, senior triple jumper Matthew O'Neal shattered his own school record and asserted himself as a prohibitive national title favorite en route to winning the NCAA East Preliminary.
O'Neal's 55-foot, 9.75-inch effort on his second and final try of the day was the nation's longest collegiate jump of the year and eighth-best in the world for 2016, according to iaaf.org. It shattered his own school mark by more than 10 inches.
His first jump (54-4.5) also would've won the event, in which the top 12 finishers earned berths in next month's NCAA Track and Field Championships.
"Just coming out there I wanted to do my best and I'm just definitely thankful I was able to compete today; just give glory to God for that," O'Neal said via phone Saturday evening.
Sweetening the feat was the audience, which included his mom, three siblings, a cousin and handful of other friends who made the 9 1/2-hour drive from O'Neal's hometown of Jackson, Miss.
"On the (second) attempt there, my nerves kind of settled down from having jumped once before," he said. "I ran down the runway as fast as I could and just jumped the best I could. Just went through the air, the wind carried me a little bit, and landed in the pit."
O'Neal said he had to hear the distance called out twice before it registered. When it did, he and jumps coach Kameisha Otey decided a third jump was unnecessary.
"My coach and I kind of looked at each other and were like, 'Yeah, that's good enough for today,'" O'Neal said.
O'Neal will try to become USF's first national champ (in any sport) in 23 years in Eugene on June 10 -- his 22nd birthday.
Earlier Saturday, senior Roberto Cid's national title quest was halted by UCLA's Mackenzie McDonald, who topped the Bulls senior 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the NCAA men's singles tournament at the University of Tulsa.
A two-time NCAA quarterfinalist, Cid got an early break to jump out to a 2-0 lead before dropping 10 of the next 11 games. He finishes his career as the first two-time All-American in program history....
CLEARWATER — In a survive-and-advance setting, USF couldn't survive its litany of missed opportunities and meager pitching depth Friday.
In a defeat typical of their injury-besieged season, the No. 7-seeded Bulls (24-33) had 13 hits but stranded 10 runners in a 7-5 loss to Memphis (21-38) in an American Athletic Conference tournament elimination game at Bright House Field.
Shortstop Jake Overbey, a .195 hitter coming in, hit a two-run single up the middle in Memphis' three-run ninth that gave the Tigers a 7-4 lead. The Bulls got a run back on sophomore Duke Stunkel Jr.'s one-out RBI-single before freshman David Villar hit into USF's fourth double play....
For the second time in three years, USF senior Roberto Cid finds himself three wins shy of a national title.
The second seed overall, Cid rallied from an early hole for a 6-4, 6-3 triumph against San Diego's Uros Petronijevic in Friday's Round of 16 at the NCAA men's singles championships at the University of Tulsa.
He'll face UCLA's Mackenzie McDonald in Saturday's quarterfinals. Cid's teammate, senior Dominic Cotrone, lost to TCU's Cameron Norrie in three sets Friday.
A quarterfinals qualifier in 2014, Cid trailed 3-0 in Friday's first set before storming back with a couple of service breaks. He took a 4-3 lead in the second set before breaking Petronijevic's serve in the eighth game, then serving out to win the match....
CLEARWATER — Seventh-seeded USF didn't necessarily need all the planets to align to make an improbable run in the American Athletic Conference baseball tournament. Just its pitching staff.
Things got out of alignment Thursday night at Bright House Field and No. 3 Connecticut pounced to win 9-1 in a winners' bracket game. The Bulls (24-32) face No. 6 Memphis at 3 today in an elimination game....
Seventh-seeded USF didn't necessarily need all the planets to align to make an improbable American Athletic Conference tournament run. Just its pitching staff.
But things got woefully out of alignment Thursday night at Bright House Field, and third-seeded Connecticut pounced for a 9-1 triumph in a winners bracket game. The Bulls (24-32) face No. 6 Memphis on Friday in a 3 p.m. elimination contest.
"Obviously it's gonna take resilience and we're gonna find out how much of that we have," said second-year coach Mark Kingston, who isn't certain who will get the ball this afternoon. "I'm hoping that our guys come out (Friday) to play really hard."
Effort wasn't an issue Thursday night. Efficiency was.
USF's pitchers combined to allow 17 hits and seven walks, and let the leadoff batter reach base in six innings. By contrast, Huskies freshman left-handed starter Tim Cate (7.1 IP, one run, four hits, nine strikeouts, one walk) mostly sparkled.
"He's an elite guy, there's no question," Kingston said. "He's every bit as good as their Friday guy (fellow lefty Anthony Kay), who may be a first-rounder."
Normal Bulls closer Tommy Eveld, making his first start in more than a year as a result of Kingston's staff shakeup, exited with apparent right arm discomfort after issuing a walk and double to open the top of the fifth. Kingston said Eveld was battling shoulder stiffness and was removed only as a precaution.
Right-hander Joe Cavallaro followed, allowing a two-run double to Bryan Daniello on his third pitch to give UConn a 3-1 lead. The Huskies tacked on another run in the fifth, then pulled away with three runs on as many hits and a walk in the sixth.
Eveld, a Jesuit High alumnus expected to be drafted next month, was charged with three earned runs on six hits in four-plus innings. He walked five, struck out three, and allowed the leadoff man to reach base in three of his four innings.
But he did emerge from a jam or two. With one out and the bases loaded in the top of the fourth, he struck out Huskies leadoff batter Jack Sundberg, then forced 3B Willy Yahn -- a .329 hitter coming in -- to fly out to center.
"He just wasn't quite as sharp early on as maybe we hoped, and he had to pitch out of trouble, but he was able to make some big pitches when we needed 'em," Kingston said. "It just wasn't quite good enough tonight."...
Single-game and group tickets for the Sept. 24 game between FSU and USF at Raymond James Stadium go on sale to the general public Monday at noon, the Bulls announced.
The tickets are available in the 300 level of the stadium. They can be bought via Ticketmaster, in person Monday between 12-2 p.m. at the USF Sun Dome Box Office (Gate A), or by phone at 1-800-745-3000. Groups of 15 or more may call 1-800-GoBulls to speak with a customer representative.
Prices start at $85 and $95 for the game, depending on location, but may rise based on demand, USF indicated.
Seats in the 100 and 200 levels for the game are available only by purchasing season tickets or three-game flex plans, which include the ability to select any three home games. Season tickets and flex plans can be purchased at USFBullstix.com or by calling 1-800-GoBulls.
Season-ticket plans range from $150-$755 for a seven-game plan, while three-game flex plans range from $120-$168....
For the second time in three years, Roberto Cid is headed to college tennis' version of the Sweet 16.
The USF senior, seeded No. 2 overall in the NCAA men's singles tournament in Tulsa, Okla., dispatched second-round foe Mazen Osama of Alabama, 6-0, 6-3 on Thursday to earn a berth in the Round of 16.
He'll be joined in the round by teammate Dominic Cotrone, who earned 7-5, 6-3 triuimph against South Carolina's Gabriel Friedrich. The victory assured Cotrone of All-America status, which Cid already had attained with his No. 2 seeding and No. 2 ranking by the ITA.
A quarterfinal qualifier as a sophomore in 2014, Cid faces either Uros Petronijevic of San Diego or Oklahoma's Axel Alvarez Llamas in the Round of 16. He topped Petronijevic in three sets earlier this season.
“At this point in the season, you’re peaking," said Cid, pushed to three sets in his opening-round match against Texas Tech's Felipe Soares....
CLEARWATER — With his injury-ravaged team facing a single, narrow avenue to the postseason, USF coach Mark Kingston opted to shake up his pitching staff in search of an 11th-hour spark.
For Wednesday's American Athletic Conference tournament opener, he started his No. 2 guy and moved his No. 1 to closer. His Sunday starter became a setup guy.
Radical, for sure. And in the end, rewarding....
With his injury-ravaged team facing a single, narrow avenue to the postseason, USF coach Mark Kingston opted to shake up his staff in search of an 11th-hour spark.
For Wednesday's American Athletic Conference tournament opener, he started his No. 2 guy and moved his No. 1 to closer. His Sunday starter became a setup guy.
Radical, for sure. And in the end, rewarding.
The seventh-seeded Bulls got seven sparkling innings from Hernando High alumnus Brandon Lawson and a save from normal Friday night starter Phoenix Sanders in a 4-2 upset of
No. 2 East Carolina (34-20) at Bright House Field.
USF (24-31), which must win this double-elimination event to reach the NCAA Tournament, faces either Memphis or Connecticut at 7 p.m. Thursday, when normal closer Tommy Eveld will make his first start in more than a year.
"The only way we're gonna win this is if we continue to get starting pitching like that," Kingston said.
"And then the guys...being put in new roles, they're gonna have to take to those roles. To win a tournament like this, things have to go your way and guys have to perform in their roles. There's just no room for error. So that's exactly what happened today."
It started with Lawson, who allowed two runs on seven hits, striking out eight and walking three. Assisting his cause was a defense that caught one ECU runner trying to stretch a leadoff double into a triple (in the fourth), and caught another Pirate in a rundown between first and second after a leadoff bloop single (in the sixth).
"Early on, fastball command and slider command was really working for me well," Lawson said. "Later on, I started throwing the curveball and change-up. Those were a little iffy but early on I was able to get ahead and put batters away."
The only glitch to Lawson's day occurred in the seventh. With two ECU runners aboard, two out and USF up 2-0, Pirates designated hitter Kirk Morgan lofted a high fly to left that Cameron Montgomery appeared to catch, then drop. Replays later showed he never had full possession.
The result was a two-run double and tie score. USF re-gained the lead for good in the top of the ninth, scoring a pair of runs off five walks. Pirates sophomore Joe Ingle, the conference's saves leader (12), issued four of them, including one to RF Luke Maglich for the go-ahead run.
"Usually (Ingle) is on top of his game and he gave us some help there," Kingston said. "Luckily we stayed inside the strike zone and allowed him to help us with disciplined at-bats. At this point, however you get those runs in, that's all that matters."
Enter Sanders, who pitched a scoreless ninth for his first career save after making 14 starts in the regular season. Preceding him was fellow righty Joe Cavallaro, another regular starter who worked a scoreless eighth despite issuing two walks.
"I thought it was encouraging to see guys accept their roles that we flipped this week to try to spark it a little bit. I thought Cavallaro was great and then Phoenix Sanders did exactly what you needed him to do."...
If the seeds in the NCAA men's singles and doubles tournaments hold true, Bulls senior Roberto Cid will seriously contend for the program's first national title in more than 20 years.
Cid is the No. 2 overall seed in the singles tournament, which begins Wednesday in Tulsa, Okla. Classmate Dominic Cotrone is the 47th seed; the Bulls tandem of Sasha Gozun and Vadym Kalyuhznyy was chosen as an alternate team for the doubles tournament....
USF sophomore 2B/SS Kevin Merrell, the Bulls' leading hitter (.309) entering this week's American Athletic Conference tournament, is a first-team selection on the coaches All-AAC team released Monday.
The entire team can be seen here. A Steinbrenner High alumnus, Merrell is the Bulls' only first-teamer. Former Hernando High ace Brandon Lawson (5-5, 2.49 ERA) made the second team.
USF's leadoff hitter, Merrell, who missed more than a dozen games with a wrist injury, owns the Bulls' best on-base percentage (.405) and has converted 16 of his 17 stolen-base attempts. He enters the league tourney at Bright House Field with a home run, 21 RBI and four doubles.
Lawson, a 6-foot-3 junior considered one of the team's top draft prospects, leads the American with 103 strikeouts in 94 innings. He ranks among the league's top 10 in ERA, opponents' batting average (.220) and innings pitched.
While discussing the surreal trajectory his athletic career has taken the last two springs, USF closer Tommy Eveld indicated he had a chance to play football at the University of Houston.
All. Expenses. Paid. Eveld, 22, said an offer from the Cougars arrived two weeks into summer workouts at USF -- where he had walked on to Skip Holtz's program -- prior to his freshman season of 2012.
So why didn't Eveld make the leap? As cockeyed as it may seem to those immersed in today's recruiting culture, he just didn't think it was right to walk away from USF.
"I was already in the system with USF, taking classes, doing workouts, and I had already committed to play for the coaches here and for the university here," he said....
TAMPA — His tone elicits a sliver of exasperation on this brick-oven afternoon. USF pitching coach Billy Mohl, whose staff includes four arms (two of them freshmen) rehabbing from elbow surgery, knows the epidemic of which he speaks.
"There's tons of kids here in the state of Florida that have way too many miles on their arm," Mohl says.
At least his closer isn't one of them. While certainly no stranger to surgical gowns, Tommy Eveld never has crossed paths with Tommy John....
Injury-besieged USF (23-31) narrowly avoided the No. 8 seed for this week's American Athletic Conference baseball tournament, but only by virtue of some help elsewhere.
The Bulls, swept at home by No. 3 seed UConn in a series that ended Saturday, faces No. 2 East Carolina (34-19-1) in their tourney opener Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Clearwater's Bright House Stadium.
The bright news for Bulls fans: USF took two of three from the Pirates on the road two weekends ago. Those victories are the only two triumphs in May for the Bulls, who have a handful of pitchers on the shelf and have been without all-AAC C Levi Borders (bacterial infection) since late March....
Though they won't clash on the field for another six months, new UCF coach Scott Frost and Bulls counterpart Willie Taggart already are colliding philosophically.
Frost, whose subdued demeanor on national signing day differed greatly from Taggart's, told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday he's not a fan of satellite camps. Taggart, who will host a camp with Michigan's Jim Harbaugh on June 4, is an outspoken proponent of them.
"The real answer is, any school that's not in a rich recruiting ground is gonna want satellite camps. Any school that's located in a good recruiting ground is not gonna want satellite camps," Frost said Thursday evening at a Knights booster gathering on Harbour Island.
"So UCF obviously, with all the players that are close to us, we don't need to go anywhere (in the summer) to recruit."
Frost indicated he and his staff will be attending a couple of satellite camps, but otherwise will use their small window of summer down time to spend with family.
"In general, I don't think they're a good idea simply for a reason that college coaches are overworked anyway," he said. "And when you add a bunch of days in June, making them go out and go to camps...I mean, the job asks a lot of you and it takes a lot of time and hours, and guys need down time."
Other Frost tidbits from Thursday:
* He said the school-record turnout for the Knights' spring game (23,147) -- a year after an 0-12 season -- is indicative of "the potential we all see in the program."
"The fan base is unbelievable, the campus is unbelievable, it's one of the best college cities in America," Frost said. "There's so much going for UCF that if we do things the right way I know we can (succeed)."
* Frost said Lakewood High alumnus Shaquem Griffin -- who totaled nine tackles last season on special teams and at safety -- moved to outside linebacker over the spring. Twin brother Shaquill (50 tackles, two interceptions, 13 pass breakups) remains at corner.
Overall, seven of the Knights' top eight tacklers return, albeit from a unit that ranked 113th nationally in 2015.
"(The Griffins) are great kids," Frost said. "I feel a lot better about where we are on defense right now than offense. We've got more of a veteran group on defense and a lot of young players on offense. The Griffins both had really good springs and are kind of examples of older, experienced guys. ... Those guys are gonna have to help us a lot."
* Few may remember Frost had a cup of coffee with the Bucs as a safety/special-teamer in 2003, well after helping lead Nebraska to a share of the 1997 national title as a 1,000-yard rusher and passer. He said then-Bucs secondary coach Mike Tomlin -- entering his 10th season as Steelers coach -- remains a valuable resource to this day."
"When I got the job at UCF, Mike probably called me six times just to talk over some little things," Frost said. "I think the world of him."...