1. Archive

Baseball: Frustration mounts amid Bulls' swoon

For a few seconds Sunday afternoon, Brandon Lawson's fastball and Lelo Prado's frustration traveled parallel northerly trajectories.

Then, their paths diverged. Gravity ultimately brought Lawson's pitch down, well beyond the left field fence of USF Baseball Stadium. Prado's irritation, however, seemed to only gain altitude in the ensuing hours.

"Everybody has to listen, got to listen to what we're trying to teach," said Prado, who watched UCF shortstop Tommy Williams homer twice -- once off Lawson -- in the Knights' 6-3 victory Sunday before an announced USF Baseball Stadium audience of 1,739.

"That's why we struggle. The selfishness pops up every once in a while."

Meantime, fan unrest is starting to surface as well.

A season Prado essentially proclaimed as regional or bust suddenly is veering toward the latter. After opening the season with a seven-game win streak, USF (18-14, 5-4 American Athletic Conference) has hit a spring swoon, dropping seven of its last 10.

During that stretch, the pitching has mostly ranged from solid to spectacular. On Saturday, right-hander Casey Mulholland tossed a complete game in a 4-2 win against UCF.

But in that same span, the Bulls have scored two or fewer runs six times. They collected nine hits off five Knights pitchers Sunday, but stranded nine base runners.

"There's nothing good about that," said Prado, who team is batting a collective .262. "A lot of hits with nobody on base don't count for me."

When the missed opportunities were accompanied by missed location, Prado's chagrin reached its apex.

Williams' first homer Sunday came in the second inning off redshirt freshman Tommy Peterson, a River Ridge alumnus making his first collegiate start. When Lawson was summoned in the fifth, Prado said he warned the former Hernando High ace to pitch Williams low and away.

The next inning, with two out and a runner aboard, Williams gave UCF a 4-1 lead. It was his third homer in two days.

"(Lawson's) still young, young guys do some stupid things sometimes," Prado said. "He tried to sneak a fastball in there and (Williams) hit it out. Credit to him. We made two mistakes on him and he hit 'em both out."

Yet opportunity for atonement remains.

Prado, still seeking his first regional in eight seasons at USF, said his club will see UCF again in the conference tournament. Meantime, the Bulls have plenty of chances -- including series against top-25 foes Houston and Louisville, and a game against Florida -- to build an NCAA resume.

But the margin for error is dwindling. Urgency is on the clock.

"There should be urgency all over USF. I mean, everybody should want to win," said Prado, in the final year of a contract that was extended in the fall of 2011.

"These guys know, they've got to come out and win baseball games. We've just got to do it, you've got to win games. But you've got to listen and you've got to do it as a team."