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Despite skid, Clearwater in reach for USF baseball

As badly as USF has stumbled in the last two weeks, getting swept by Connecticut and Notre Dame, the Bulls can still salvage a spot in next week's Big East tournament in Clearwater by bouncing back and playing well this weekend at home against Pittsburgh.

Entering the final weekend of the Big East regular season, USF is 11-13 in conference play, tying them with Seton Hall for the eighth and final ticket to Clearwater. Despite a seven-game losing streak and 22-28 overall record, the Bulls can basically make the cut for the conference tournament simply by not letting Seton Hall win more games than them this weekend.

That's not necessarily any easy task -- Seton Hall (11-13) has last-place Georgetown (5-19) at home, while USF has third-place Pittsburgh, which is 15-9 and coming off a sweep of West Virginia. So wins should be easier to come by for the Pirates -- if USF can simply match Seton Hall's success this weekend, the Bulls are in, having won the head-to-head series this season.

If the Bulls win fewer games than Seton Hall, they can still get in, but there are limited scenarios -- USF would need to take 2 of 3 from Pittsburgh and have this weekend's series between Notre Dame (12-11) and Louisville (12-12) be a three-game sweep, one way or the other.

If you're really feeling optimistic about things, USF could pick up lots of ground in the final weekend, being just two games out of fourth place with three games remaining. The Bulls can't be seeded higher than fifth in Clearwater, however, because the winner of the Louisville-Notre Dame series will be ahead of them in the standings.

We'll write more on baseball in the coming days, but the biggest challenge facing the Bulls will be keeping Pittsburgh's bats in check -- the Panthers lead the Big East in scoring (6.5 runs per game) and are second in home runs (18 total) and batting average (.294). All this while USF has question marks on what had been some of the few remaining healthy arms available.

One more note for some historical perspective -- at 22-28, the Bulls are likely to finish with a losing record, and if they do so, they'll have back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in 30 years, since the 1980 and 1981 USF teams.

Posted by Greg Auman at 11:23:46 am on May 16, 2011