Series Preview: USF Bulls

It is finally baseball season and Maryland is looking to keep the ball rolling after their record-breaking season against USF.

The Terps are ranked 13th in the country heading into the 2023 season and will be facing the Bulls for the first time in program history. Last year, South Florida finished with 28 wins and 29 losses while winning just eight conference matchups. Maryland’s season ended with a Big Ten championship and its first conference title since 1971.

Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium will have to wait until next week as the Terp’s season opener is taking place in Tampa, Florida. USF is looking for a revenge season with home run leader Drew Butcher returning along with eight new transfers. Coming back for Maryland are six All-Big Ten members and six transfers, one being Matt Woods, who was the NEC player of the year at Bryant University in 2022.

Both teams plan to improve their past season, with USF hoping to make a splash in the American Athletic Conference and Rob Vaughn’s Terps anticipating a ticket to the College World Series.

South Florida Bulls (28-29, 8-16 AAC)

Last Season

USF placed last in the American Athletic Conference in 2022, winning just eight games in league play and 28 overall. They found themselves in a few rough patches during the season, losing six straight and then five more in a row later that month. In a three-game series during early May, the Bulls were able to secure two of three games against conference rival UCF. Just two years removed from the Super Regional, USF is eager to get back to the high-level baseball they have shown in the past.

Hitters to Watch

The program’s best hitter Drew Butcher will return this year after 13 home runs, 40 RBI, and 1.057 OPS 2022 season. Butcher also received a nod to the American Athletic Conference Preseason All-Conference Team and the Bobby Bragan National Collegiate Slugger Award Watch List. Leading the team in both home runs and walks last season, the return of the number one draft prospect in the AAC will bring some much-needed firepower to the USF lineup.

Daniel Cantu is another outfielder for the Bulls who has proven to be a consistent hitter. He was second on the team in walks and doubles, a staple in the offense, and one of the focal points of USF’s six returning players. Cantu will be playing both outfield and first base this season, showing off his versatility and five-tool skills.

Sophomore Jackson Mayo will look to improve on his Freshman campaign, slashing .265 and ranking third on the team in home runs and RBIs. Mayo was named to the Sunbelt Baseball League all-star team this past summer and even earned AAC player of the week honors on March 14th of last season. USF’s start-studded outfield is completed with Mayo and will count on him to deliver in big games just like he did last year.

Pitchers to Watch

Joey Volini is a left-handed pitcher out of the Bulls bullpen who is coming off an excellent freshman season. In 14 appearances, Volini threw 16 innings, giving up seven earned runs and striking out 15. He finished the year with a 2-0 record and 3.86 ERA, including a season-high three strikeouts in 2.2 IP against UCF. Limiting opponents to just a .206 batting average, Volini will be one of the go-to guys out of the bullpen for South Florida.

Transfer Nolan Hudi is becoming one of the Bull’s best relievers and will look to chop down left-handed hitters alongside Volini this upcoming season. Hudi was tied for the most appearances on the team during his first season with USF and went 3-2 with a 5.12 ERA. He logged 12 scoreless outings of his 22 appearances and had three separate games where he struck out three batters. If Hudi can improve upon his opponent’s .280 batting average, he can become a lethal lefty threat in the AAC.

Starting pitcher and transfer Ethan Brown is the third of the trio of lefties attempting to give USF a frightening bullpen. A transfer from Seminole State College, Brown pitched his first season with UCF last year and started nine games while appearing in 17. He held the opposition to a .254 batting average and struck out 45 hitters in 47.2 innings pitched. In his best start of the season against Cincinnati, Brown retired seven hitters on strikes, a new season-high. Brown ended his 2022 campaign on a high note and will continue the momentum going into the new year.