TAMPA — They want to apply immediate pressure, get on you quick and get in your head.
And they want to do it without saying a word.
Meet the leadoff and No. 2 hitter in the USF baseball lineup, third baseman Carmine Lane and outfielder Drew Brutcher — guys who prefer to let their bats do the talking.
After a 19-14 start for the Bulls this year (1-5 in the American Athletic Conference), Lane and Brutcher ranked at or near the top of the conference in several hitting categories.
Entering this week (through 32 games), Lane led the AAC in RBIs (39), hits (47), total bases (85) and plate appearances (153). Brutcher was tied for the league lead in home runs (10), led the league in walks (30), was third in on-base percentage (.483) and tied for third in RBI (31).
“We’re excited about where things are going,” said Lane, a pull hitter who leads the team with a .338 average. “I think we feel that we haven’t reached our expectations. I feel like everyone on this team has one goal, and that is to get as far as we possibly can this year. We want to make it to Omaha (for the College World Series).”
“Because of how close we got last year (to the super regional before losing at Texas), we came into this year feeling confident about our chances,” said Brutcher, who sprays the ball to all fields and ranks second on the team with a .316 average. “I would say we are all confident.”
For the 6-foot-6 Brutcher, it seems confidence is simply part of his DNA, which makes sense considering that his father, Len, a second-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1988, coached his son at Lakeland High School.
Like his dad, Brutcher, who as a high school senior was named the state’s Class 8A player of the year, also was considered a pitching prospect with his 90-plus mph fastball.
But it didn’t take long for USF coach Billy Mohl to see Brutcher was a phenomenal, and phenomenally natural, hitter.
“I’ll never forget the first day when he was a freshman and I threw live batting practice out here on the field to him,” Mohl said of the beginning of the 2021 season. “I threw a ball a few inches off the plate, a few inches outside, and he just took it. He saw it. That’s not normal for a freshman. Normally, freshmen are getting up there and looking like they’re swatting at mosquitoes. But he was so disciplined.
“It’s like the game comes so easily to him. He sees the game a little bit slower than everyone else.”
Lane, a second-year sophomore because of the pandemic eligibility extension, said it was “crazy” to see Brutcher, a true sophomore, step in and be so good right away.
“You don’t see that too often,” said Lane, who said he struggled a bit as a freshman after arriving from American Heritage High in Plantation. “It was kind of like you stepped back and said, ‘Wow, we are going to play with a player with that kind of talent.’ I think seeing him come in like that as a freshman gave the whole team a boost of confidence.
“It was also a little bit of, ‘Look, the freshman can do it, you know, I feel like I can do it.’ Drew pushed everybody to be better just by being Drew.”
Mohl and his coaches said they saw the spark Lane and Brutcher provided and decided in the middle of last season to move their sluggers up to the first and second slots in the lineup. After that, USF went on a tear that led to conference and regional titles, as well as the program’s first-ever super regional appearance.
By the end of 2021, Lane and Brutcher were so good, they ended up being named to freshmen All-American teams by national publications.
Lane finished the season leading the team in batting average (.306), hits (76), runs (44) and total bases (123) and was second in doubles (14) and slugging (.496) and third in home runs (11).
Brutcher, who missed seven weeks with a hand injury, appeared in 32 games (29 starts) and finished with a .294 average, six doubles, 17 RBI and 23 walks.
Brutcher might be best remembered for his two-run homer in the top of the ninth against Texas in the super regional, a blast that tied the score and silenced the packed house in Austin.
Texas went on to win 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, but USF no doubt saw it as a glimpse of things to come.
“You saw that and said, ‘Yeah, good things are here and good things are coming,’” Lane said. “It’s exciting right now. We feel we are making some good things happen.”
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