Rob Bridenstine

USF eliminated from NCAA Tournament

The seconded seeded USF Bulls (42-19) were defeated 6-4 in an elimination game in the NCAA Tournament by three seed Bethune-Cookman University (35-24), ending their historic season.

USF got out to a hot start when shortstop Kevin Merrell hit a solo homerun in the first inning. In the bottom half of that same inning, starting pitcher Noah Yager would give up three runs, all without the ball leaving the infield.

After a leadoff single from shortstop, Demetrius Sims, a SAC bunt was bobbled by first baseman Joe Genord allowing everybody to be safe. Then third baseman Jameel Edney laid down a perfect bunt down the third base line for a hit to load the bases.  

First baseman Danny Rodriguez hit a two RBI double and then a fielder’s choice brought home a third run to put the Bulls in a quick 3-1 hole. Head coach Mark Kingston said his team wasn’t discouraged because it was still early in the game.

“It was a bad inning,” said Kingston. “It was an unlucky inning and we still had 8 innings after that to respond.”

USF managed to tie the game at three in the second inning when a Merrell single scored Genord and catcher Tyler Dietrich. But the Wildcats would take the lead back in the third and keep it for the rest of the game.

The Bulls were only able to get one more run across, a solo home run off the bat of Dietrich, the first of his career. The blast came with two runs in the ninth, showing the Bulls weren’t through fighting to keep their season alive.

“100 percent we gave our best effort,” said Kingston. “These kids were playing until 12:30 in the morning last night. Anybody who was with us pregame saw that we were a lively group.” 

Despite their best efforts, the Bulls could not find the chink in the Wildcats pitchers. Senior DH, Luke Borders, said the BCU pitchers were aggressive all day.

“They came in and threw strikes, they’re a really scrappy team,” Borders said. “They competed, like always.”

Borders was accompanied by senior relief pitcher Ryan Valdes in the post-game press conference. Things got emotional quickly when it set in that their time as USF Bulls was over.

“I can’t really explain it… I’m going to miss it a lot,” said Borders, seemingly holding back tears. “It’s been four years of absolute fun and I’m not quite sure what I would do without baseball.”

Valdes, who threw out of the bullpen last night, was unavailable to pitch today. Valdes still felt a lot of emotion after the final game of his collegiate career.

“I always tell the Little Leaguers that I coach is that the best thing about baseball is that you get to play again tomorrow,” said Valdes. “Knowing that you’re not playing tonight, or the next day, or next weekend …You’re happy you got this far, sad that you’re done and proud of this team and everything we accomplished.”

The Bulls finished their season with 42 wins, which is the most in a season since 1996. A few seniors are leaving, but the core group of the team should be back next season and hope to build off their success from this year.

“At this point we’re focusing on the season as a whole,” said Kingston. “ I’m very proud of where this team and this program are, but we’re going to try and continue to get better and better.”

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