TAMPA – While the first two weeks of the season will not define his team, University of South Florida coach Billy Mohl’s squad certainly has its share of challenges early on.
So far, so good as the Bulls defeated No. 4 Florida at USF Baseball Stadium on Tuesday night. The 6-1 victory followed a season-opening series against visiting Samford in which they took two of three.
“We’ve seen a little bit of everything,” said Mohl, when asked about his impressions of the first four games. “We’ve been very offensive at times and pitched very well at times, but then you see the blunders and stuff like that. It’s still early and we’re still try to work through some things. Overall, it’s been good.”
It was certainly a good win against the Gators, which took place in front 2,363, many of whom had to find a place to stand down along the right- and left-field fencing.
Major contributions came from newcomers and familiar faces. Logan Lyle was superb in his USF debut. The lefty transfer from Bartow, who played two seasons at the State College of Florida in Sarasota, got out of a seventh-inning jam when he struck out three straight batters with runners on the corners and the go-ahead run at the plate in what was a 3-1 game.
In two shutout innings Lyle allowed one hit and fanned four. Not only was it a sweet introduction to the USF fans, but the icing on the cake was he grew up rooting for the Gators.
“It was a dream come true for sure,” he said of his performance. “I always wanted to beat the Gators. When I was growing up I liked them, but now that I am here I don’t like them anymore. I have to do my job and I am glad it came out that way.”
So was Mohl, whose got some breathing room thanks in large part to the bats of a couple of seniors. Chris Chatfield’s solo homer in the bottom half of the inning made it 4-1 and Kyle Phillips’ two-run double with the bases loaded in the eighth polished off the scoring.
“It was nice seeing ‘KP’ come through in that situation,” said Mohl, of Phillips’ clutch hit. “He’s a senior and that’s what you look for in an all-conference player. He delivered.”
It’s off the Chapel Hill this weekend for three games against No. 5 North Carolina, which opened last season at USF. The then-No. 6 Tar Heels took two of three.
UNC has a starting rotation that includes what Mohl noted are three potential first-round draft picks. The Tar Heels also boast ACC player of the year candidate Michael Busch. The junior first baseman was a second-team conference selection last season after hitting .317 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs.
Mother Nature will likely play a role in this weekend’s series. The forecast calls for rain with temperatures in the 40s Friday and Saturday before warming up and potentially drying out Sunday.
“It will be a good test,” said Mohl. “It’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be cold and it’s going to be rainy, so our guys are going to have to fight it out a little bit.”
It’s a series the Bulls are looking forward to.
“The weather doesn’t look the best, but it’s just another obstacle that we are going to face,” said Phillips. “It should be a good (series) to see where we are, see all of their weekend arms. It should be a fun one.”
After returning to Tampa the Bulls host No. 6 Florida State on Tuesday night (6:30) to complete a stretch of five consecutive games against teams residing in the upper echelon of the national rankings.
“Like I told them, we have another four games against top (six) teams, so don’t get too happy about this,” said Mohl of his message to the team immediately after defeating the Gators. “We have to get focused on the next four games ahead of us.”