Mark Giardino (@USFBaseballFans)
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This past weekend the Bulls went on the road to face off against the Cincinnati Bearcats. The series provided many memorable moments, highlighted by a nail biter of a victory on Friday night and a blowout win on Sunday. Ultimately, the Bulls won 2 out of 3 games in Cincinnati and came away with their 1st AAC series win of the season to improve their conference record to 4-8 (23-17 overall). Let’s dive into what happened out there.
Weekend Recap (by Mark)
Friday – Bulls win 10 to 9
This game was an emotional rollercoaster. The Bulls held a 4-2 lead heading to the bottom of the 5th but soon found themselves in a hole after the Bearcats scored 5 runs in that frame to take a 7-4 lead. In the top of the 6th, the Bulls responded with 2 runs of their own to make it a 7-6 game. Ultimately, the Bulls would enter the top of the 9th trailing by 1 run in an 8-7 game. In need of at least 1 run to avoid a heartbreaking defeat, the Bulls got RBIs from sophomore Joaquin Monque and freshman Sonny Rao to take a 10-8 lead and set up Hunter Mink for the save.
Saturday – Bulls lose 13 to 2
Making his 2nd start of the week, senior Joseph Sanchez gave the Bulls 2 innings while allowing 1 run. When combined with his start earlier in the week, Sanchez has only allowed 1 run in his past 5 innings. This game ended up getting away from the Bulls in the 4th inning when the Bearcats scored 4 runs to take a 5-1 lead. Later, in the 6th inning the Bearcats would pour on 8 runs to take a 13-2 lead and take the game by mercy rule (10 run lead after 7 innings).
Sunday – Bulls win 19 to 5
If Friday night’s 10-9 victory was the best game of the year, Sunday’s rout of Cincinnati was the most fun game of the year (so far). Every starter in the Bulls batting order got a hit, and 7 of them had multi-hit games. Also, starting pitcher Ethan Brown delivered another strong performance in a conference game going 5.1 innings, allowing 2 earned runs, and striking out a career high 7 batters. The Bulls finished the night with 19 runs and 21 base hits.
Takeaways from the Weekend
The Future is Now
One thing that stood out from the weekend was the performance of true freshman hitters. We knew the Bulls were getting a talented crop of freshmen coming into this season. According to Perfect Game, the recruits from the 2021 high school graduating class, who joined the Bulls this past fall were the #3 ranked recruiting class in the AAC and the #46 overall class in the country. Despite all the hype, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the impact these youngsters would have on the 2022 team.
This past weekend, the combination of four true freshmen (Sonny Rao, Marcus Brodil, Jackson Mayo, and Bobby Boser) went 20 for 48 (.417) and had 15 RBIs. Their 15 combined RBIs accounted for half of the team’s total 30 RBIs for the weekend.
Sonny Rao (Orlando, FL) in particular had a great weekend and earned himself a spot on the AAC Weekly Honor Roll. In addition to that, Marcus Brodil (Dunedin, FL), who only played in 2 of 3 games over the weekend, went 6 for 11 (.545) and only struck out once.
Don’t Forget the Veterans
During a weekend in which the freshmen hitters shined, it could be easy to overlook some strong performances by the more experienced players. Leading the way for the veteran group was redshirt sophomore Daniel Cantu (Jacksonville, FL) who went 4 for 10 (.400) and reached base safely in 7 of his 13 plate appearances (.538 OBP). In addition to that, Cantu had the most RBIs of any Bull during the weekend driving in 6 runs.
Other strong performances at the plate from veteran hitters were provided by redshirt sophomore Carmine Lane (Lake Worth, FL) and sophomore Joaquin Monque (Weston, FL). Lane went 4 for 12 (.333) and reached base safely in 7 of his 16 plate appearances (.438 OBP). Monque drove the ball hard to the outfield many times but had a hard time finding gaps. He still managed to go for 3 for 12 (.250) with all 3 hits being for extra bases, a home run and 2 doubles.
Thoughts on the Bulls Offensive Attack
The Bulls scored double digit runs twice this weekend (10 on Friday, 19 on Sunday) which is really impressive. However, sandwiched in between was a game in which the Bulls only scored 2 runs on 4 hits. This lineup is absolutely loaded with talent but I would like to see them produce more consistently day in day out. On days where the Bulls can’t find the 3 run home run, I’d like to see them be able to manufacture runs on bunt base hits, sacrifices, stealing bases, and situational hitting. I’ve actually been starting to see a little more of that lately and it’s been good to see. We definitely have the athletes to create runs via small-ball when needed.
Changes in the Pitching Rotation
This past weekend, the Bulls presented a different pitching rotation than we had seen in prior weeks. After making 6 consecutive Friday night starts, redshirt sophomore Orion Kerkering (Venice, FL), was moved to the bullpen and redshirt junior Brad Lord (Crawfordville, FL) started in his place. Here is how the Bulls starting pitching rotation stands now:
Friday – Brad Lord (R-JR, RHP)
Saturday – Ethan Brown (R-SO, LHP)
Sunday – To Be Determined
Mid-Week – To Be Determined
This leaves the question, if Orion Kerkering is back in the bullpen, who are the Bulls’ #3 and #4 starters? It appears that redshirt senior Joseph Sanchez (Miami, FL) is making a case for one of those spots. After stepping up towards the end of last season as one of the top performers in the bullpen, Sanchez entered the 2022 season with high expectations. Unfortunately, he got off to a rough start and through his first 7 appearances held a 9.64 ERA.
It looked like 2022 might have been a lost season for Sanchez, but he has regained his form in the past month and is once again stepping up as a leader for this young Bulls club. In Sanchez’s past 6 outings, which dates back to March 22nd at FGCU, he has thrown 13.2 innings with an ERA of 3.29 and a WHIP of 1.24. Both of those metrics are really good and show drastic improvement from how his season started. Shout out to Joe for his perseverance. He’ll be key for the Bulls in their effort to make another postseason push.
As far as the other spot in the starting pitching rotation, I wonder if moving Kerkering to the bullpen will open up the Bulls’ coaches to the possibility of taking a high performer from the bullpen and moving them to the starting pitching rotation. Here are some candidates who have excelled in their bullpen roles and might be able to do the same as a starter:
Tanner Mink (R-SO) – 17 IP, 3.71 ERA, 12 K, 7 BB
Hunter Mink (R-SO) – 28.1 IP, 3.49 ERA, 31 K, 12 BB
Nolan Hudi (R-FR) – 20.2 IP, 3.48 ERA, 18 K, 4 BB
All three of these guys have consistently come through clutch for the Bulls in high leverage situations towards the middle and end of games out of the bullpen. If you move one of them to the starting pitching rotation, Orion Kerkering can fill one of their spots because he has plenty of experience in high leverage relief situations.
It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out as the Bulls are about to play 4 games in 5 days and will need to use 4 different starting pitchers. We will definitely get some answers. Stay tuned.
What’s Ahead for the Bulls?
This weekend the Bulls host the Houston Cougars in only the 2nd home conference series of the season so far. The game times were recently all moved up to earlier in the day due to the threat of inclement weather. The Cougars come to Tampa with a record of 26-15 (7-5 AAC).
Game times are as follows:
Friday – 12 PM
Saturday – 10 AM
Sunday – 10 AM
See you all there! #HornsUp