TAMPA – The No. 20 Bulls continue their pursuit of the Big East regular season title with a three-game weekend series at Seton Hall that starts Friday afternoon.
Forecasts for Saturday in South Orange, N.J., call for heavy rain which caused the teams to rearrange their series plans. A doubleheader is now scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday’s game is set for a 1 p.m. start.
USF (32-16, 15-3) is tied with Pitt atop the conference standings and is looking for its fifth consecutive Big East series victory. The Bulls started an eventful week Tuesday with a 7-3 victory over Bethune-Cookman that extended their home winning streak to 12 games.
USF is now ranked in three national polls after debuting in Baseball America at No. 23 and in the Perfect Game college rankings at No. 24. The Bulls also made a jump up from 78 to 52 in the latest NCAA RPI release.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in a great spot,” head coach Lelo Prado said. “If we take care of business we go to the NCAAs. That’s what we play for and that’s what we want to do.”
The Bulls still have plenty of tough tasks ahead this regular season and it all starts with the series against a Pirates team that’s not far behind in the league standings. Seton Hall (30-16, 13-5) is on a nine-game winning streak that has featured three-game sweeps of Villanova and Cincinnati.
USF has won 11 of its past 12 Big East games after taking two of three from Notre Dame last weekend in Indiana. The Bulls’ pitching staff leads the conference with a 2.65 ERA in league play while freshman right-hander Jimmy Herget has a 0.84 ERA against Big East opponents. Herget (5-1) has an overall ERA of 1.61 that ranks 41st in the nation this season.
“He’s been outstanding for us every Friday,” Prado said.
Game 2 starter Nick Gonzalez (3-3) was named Big East Pitcher of the Week on Monday after pitching seven shutout innings in USF’s 4-3, 10-inning win at Notre Dame last Saturday. The junior left-hander has a 3.53 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings.
Joey Lovecchio (5-3) is scheduled to start Saturday’s series finale. The senior right-hander has a 3.99 ERA in 65 1/3 innings and has earned a win in two of his past three starts.
“We have three starters that are going seven or eight innings every time out and our bullpen has been so good. You win or lose with pitching and we’ve pitched well enough to win,” Prado said.