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As 2020 season dawns, USF baseball bent on atoning for 2019

The Bulls, who failed to qualify for last year’s AAC tournament, open the new season at home Friday.
Bishop McLaughlin alumnus Carson Ragsdale, a clutch reliever for USF two seasons ago, returns after missing a season due to Tommy John surgery. [USF Athletics]
Bishop McLaughlin alumnus Carson Ragsdale, a clutch reliever for USF two seasons ago, returns after missing a season due to Tommy John surgery. [USF Athletics]
Published Feb. 13

TAMPA ― Nine months after its 2019 season ended in embarrassment, the USF baseball team’s quest for redemption begins in earnest Friday.

Replenished by an assortment of promising young arms (on the mound and in the outfield), the Bulls open the ’20 season at home Friday against Marist in the first of a three-game series. Chances are, it will end more favorably than their last series in the same park, when they dropped two of three to Wichita State and failed to earn the final spot in the eight-team American Athletic Conference tournament.

“I think hungry is an understatement,” junior catcher (and Durant High alumnus) Jake Sullivan said.

Here are three things to know (and at least one thing we still don’t know) about the ’20 brand of Bulls heading into Friday’s opener:

1. Mohl’s make-or-break year

Conventional wisdom indicates USF baseball coach Billy Mohl, whose team finished 26-27 last season, must show marked improvement in Year Three to secure a Year 4.

In his 19½ months on the job, USF athletic director Michael Kelly has shown little tolerance for mediocrity (see football, volleyball, track and field), which suggests third-year coach Billy Mohl can ill afford a ’19 sequel.

Even with an injury-decimated pitching staff, a 26-27 record and ninth-place AAC finish simply isn’t acceptable for a program nestled in arguably the nation’s most fertile recruiting soil.

“Look, we all remember that Saturday in May last year where our season came to an end,” Mohl said.

“Most of these guys were on that team in ’18 when we were the (No.) 2 seed (in the DeLand Regional), a couple of spots away from hosting. The expectation of this program is to get to a regional every single year, break through to the supers and get to Omaha.”

2. Young arms aplenty

Senior Collin Sullivan, USF's opening-night starter in 2019, pitched a team-high 81.2 innings for the Bulls last season. [USF Athletics]

Mohl’s refurbished pitching staff features nine newcomers, including six freshmen. Among the rookies who appear in line for immediate mound work are Springstead right-hander Jack Jasiak, who struck out 250 in 163 career innings for the Eagles.

Which isn’t to suggest the Bulls staff will be as green as the trim on their home uniforms.

Senior right-hander Collin Sullivan, last year’s opening night starter, returns after a respectable junior year (4-5, 3.86 ERA, 81.2 IP). Also back is 6-foot-8 righty Carson Ragsdale, a Bishop McLaughlin alumnus who sat out the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery, but sparkled in 16 relief appearances (21.1 IP, 24 strikeouts, 3.38 ERA) in 2018.

Related: Hottest ticket in college softball? It's the St. Pete/Clearwater Invitational

3. A Spartan in center

Don’t be surprised if freshman Dontae Mitchell, a starter and honor student all four years at Lakewood, starts at centerfield Friday night. Mitchell, who stole 35 bases as a Spartans junior, recently was named preseason AAC Freshman of the Year by Perfect Game USA.

He’ll likely be flanked by senior Austin Bodrato. Two other rookies, Daniel Cantu and Carmine Lane, appear to be vying for the left field job.

4. Who will provide the pop?

Great question. Of USF’s eight returning position players, Sullivan and second baseman Jordan Santos had the most home runs last year (four each).

Cantu (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) and Riverview High alumnus Dillon Besnier possess power, and Mitchell appears to be a five-tool talent in the making. Don’t be shocked if Bodrato (6-1, 212) breaks through after a modest ’19 season (.234, three home runs, 20 RBIs).


  1. USF coach Brian Gregory's club dropped its third consecutive game Thursday, falling 65-55 at Wichita State.
  2. Florida Gators running back Lamical Perine (22) smashes into LSU Tigers safety John Battle (26) in the second quarter. (Bronte Wittpenn, Times)
  3. BRONTE WITTPENN   |   Times
Florida Gators wide receiver Trevon Grimes (8) catches the ball near the end zone in the third quarter in a game against LSU at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Saturday, October 6, 2018.
  4. USF defensive back Mike Hampton (7), returning an interception during the 2018 season opener, will help lead the Bulls through what could be the American Athletic Conference's toughest schedule in 2020.
  5. USF wide receiver Randall St. Felix (84) and the Bulls have only one open date in the 2020 season. USF's complete 2020 schedule was finalized Tuesday.
  6. Former USF coach Charlie Strong (left), greeting Alabama coach Nick Saban at a 2017 summer football camp on the Bulls campus, reportedly has joined Saban's staff in an analyst role.
  7. Connecticut's Megan Walker, left, drives past USF's Shae Leverett during the second half of the Huskies' 67-47 triumph Sunday at the Yuengling Center. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
  8. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma brings his team to the Yuengling Center for the final time as an American Athletic Conference member today.
  9. USF coach Brian Gregory, pacing the sideline during a January game at the Yuengling Center, watched his team score only 11 first-half points in Saturday's 56-48 loss to Tulsa. [OCTAVIO JONES | TAMPA BAY TIMES]
  10. USF interim coach Jess Moore watches her team from the dugout on the opening day of the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational at Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater.
  11. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the second half of the Orange Bowl against Virginia on Dec. 30 in Miami Gardens.
  12. Bishop McLaughlin alumnus Carson Ragsdale, a clutch reliever for USF two seasons ago, returns after missing a season due to Tommy John surgery.