Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. USF Bulls

USF baseball has nothing to prove to its conference foes

The Bulls, the underdogs of underdogs last season when they advanced to super regionals, are used to being underestimated.
USF baseball coach Billy Mohl hoists the American Athletic Conference championship trophy during the 2021 season. The Bulls had been picked to finish last in the conference.
USF baseball coach Billy Mohl hoists the American Athletic Conference championship trophy during the 2021 season. The Bulls had been picked to finish last in the conference. [ Courtesy of USF Athletics ]
Published Feb. 13

TAMPA — After last season’s historic finish, it might appear that USF’s baseball team deserves to be ranked higher than sixth in the eight-team American Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll.

Yet sixth is where the 2022 Bulls were picked.

It is better than the last-place prediction before the 2021 season, but it’s also enough to make some wonder: USF is, after all, the defending AAC and regional tournament champion.

“You know what, rankings are rankings, and that’s all they are,” said USF redshirt sophomore Jack Jasiak, a Springstead High alumnus who after finishing 2021 with a 2.93 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 98 innings was a unanimous preseason all-conference selection. “We’ll just leave the rankings at that.”

USF coach Billy Mohl pointed at his team practicing Thursday afternoon. “They don’t care. They just want to get back to where they reached last year.”

That would mean making more history no matter what prognosticators say.

In 2021, after USF pulled off the upsets to win the school’s first AAC tournament, all the predictions (including from Baseball America) still picked USF to finish last in regionals.

Undaunted, the Bulls proceeded to beat No. 14 Florida, Miami and South Alabama to win its first regional title.

USF did go on to lose to No. 2 Texas in the super regional and finish the year 31-30, but it sure looked like the Bulls had turned things around in a big way.

If nothing else, USF is fired up to prove 2021 wasn’t a fluke.

USF's Roberto Pena was among the Bulls' leaders in RBIs (with 40) during 2021's championship season.
USF's Roberto Pena was among the Bulls' leaders in RBIs (with 40) during 2021's championship season. [ Courtesy of USF Athletics ]

“Now we all know now what it takes to get there, and we know we can do it,” said redshirt junior infielder Roberto Pena, who played in all 61 games last year, hitting .236 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs. “Once you get close and you get that little taste you can’t wait to go back. We’ve watched that super region game on tape at least 100 times, and seeing that makes us want to get there even more.

“It all starts with energy and showing up every day. Everybody is showing up.”

A good deal of the optimism for 2022 — which officially begins Feb. 18-20 with home games against UConn, Louisville and Charlotte — stems from the fact that USF returns seven starting position players, strong starting pitchers and their closer, redshirt sophomore Orion Kerkering, who was lights out down the stretch last season.

“We lost two great leaders (Jake Sullivan and Riley Hogan to graduation), but we have great leaders returning, including players such as Pena, Jasiak, Carmine Lane (.306 average), Joseph Sanchez (4.76 ERA) and Jarrett Eaton (.276),” Mohl said. “These guys coming back set a great tone. I feel good about them and all the returners.”

Joining Jasiak on the preseason all-conference team are Drew Brutcher and Lane, who earned freshman All-America status last year.

Brutcher, a 6-foot-6 power-hitting lefty who was sidelined 29 games with injuries last season, still finished with six doubles, eight homers and 17 RBIs. It was Brutcher, in fact, who delivered in the first game of the super regional at Texas, with a pinch-hitting RBI single and a game-tying homer in the ninth inning.

“Brutcher is a special talent that is for sure,” Pena said. “I can’t wait to see what he’ll do throughout a whole season.”

Lane, meantime, led the 2021 Bulls in average (.306), hits (76), runs (44), RBIs (43) and total bases (123), and ranked second in doubles (14) and slugging (.496) and was third in home runs (11).

Mohl said questions still remain in the bullpen, where experience isn’t in abundance.

“I will say there are a lot of talented guys in our bullpen, but they are guys who haven’t performed a lot when the game lights come on,” Mohl said. “I’m not concerned about guys stepping up, but we will have to see who does.”

The Bulls’ young bullpen will have the comfort of playing 14 of their first 15 games at home, a schedule that might help USF get off to a faster start than it did last year. On May 20, 2021, USF was only 22-26.

Ahead of USF in the 2022 preseason coaches poll are (in order): East Carolina, Tulane, Cincinnati, Wichita State and UCF.

• • •

Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge