When the biggest USF baseball weekend of the season concluded Sunday, Bulls fans had been exposed to grief and guile, rocky beginnings and riveting finishes.
Their coach was absent one game. Their catalyst was absent all three.
Yet by dusk Sunday, the Bulls (34-10, 9-6) found themselves in a logjam atop the American Athletic Conference standings. By dusk Monday, they just might be ranked.
USF's 5-4 triumph Sunday against Houston (28-15, 9-6), their second come-from-behind victory against the Cougars in as many days, gave the Bulls their biggest series win of the season. Considering the game's subplots, and the weekend's general ebb and flow, it's likely no regular season series will turn out to be more critical.
"These are awesome," said junior right-hander Joe Cavallaro, who earned saves Saturday and Sunday. "But other than conference play, this is big for Pete Strzelecki."
Ah, Strzelecki. He's among myriad reasons this weekend was so huge. Let's break it down.
* Four nights after learning his father had died suddenly of a heart attack at age 52, Strzelecki took the mound Saturday -- a night earlier than scheduled -- so he could attend the funeral on Sunday. Here's the story from that emotional triumph.
* Coach Mark Kingston missed Sunday's game, to attend Kevin Strzelecki's funeral.
* The Bulls took two of three from one of the AAC's premier teams without junior SS Kevin Merrell, their top hitter and leadoff man. Merrell, nursing a foot strain, could return for next weekend's home series against East Carolina.
* USF had to rally from significant deficits in both their victories. They trailed 4-0 Saturday before storming back for a 7-4 win, and rallied from a three-run deficit with four runs in the seventh in Sunday's triumph. Senior DH Luke Borders, 4-for-7 with five RBIs in the two wins, provided the go-ahead RBI Sunday with a two-run double.
* Cavallaro had a three-inning save Saturday, and worked 1 1/3 innings Sunday. "I felt all right (Sunday)," Cavallaro said. "(Pitching) coach (Billy Mohl) asked me to go out and finish the game for him, so I just did what I could for the team."
* With the series win, USF is tied for first in the leage with the Cougars, UCF, Connecticut and Tulane.
He surrendered a home run on his eighth pitch of the night, then walked the next batter on five pitches. His command and composure mostly eluded him.
But by the end of USF starter Peter Strzelecki's 1 1/2-inning stint Saturday night, Bulls coach Mark Kingston called it one of the most valiant efforts he has witnessed.
"I could not have done it," Kingston said.
Four nights after losing his father suddenly to a heart attack at age 52, the Bulls redshirt junior from Lake Worth took the mound against American Athletic Conference front-runner Houston, then watched his team (33-10, 8-6) rally for a 7-4 triumph before an announced USF Baseball Stadium crowd of 992.
Scheduled to pitch in Sunday's series finale against the Cougars (28-14, 9-5), Strzelecki had asked to throw a night early, and Kingston obliged.
Both player and coach will attend Kevin Strzelecki's funeral Sunday.
"When a guy tells you he wants to do that, under those circumstances, you say absolutely," Kingston said.
Strzelecki allowed four runs (two earned) in his brief stint, walking three and scattering three hits. After issuing his final walk, pitching coach Billy Mohl walked to the edge of the mound, where he and Strzelecki embraced....
TAMPA — Tentatively, Caleb Brantley is a Brown.
The former Gators defensive lineman, facing a criminal investigation into a complaint that he punched a woman and knocked her unconscious this month, was drafted Saturday by Cleveland with the first pick of the sixth round.
But Sashi Brown, the club's executive vice president of football operations, offered a disclaimer of sorts shortly afterward....
Former Gators and Pasco High standout Joey Ivie capped a bustling weekend for local NFL Draft prospects when the Dallas Cowboys picked him in the seventh round with the 228th overall pick.
The oldest of five siblings, Ivie's selection comes almost two years to the day after losing his younger sister. Jordan Ivie passed away April 26, 2015, from injuries sustained in a car accident in a rural part of Dade City....
In the wake of Saturday's NFL Draft developments, one safely can presume Kofi Amichia has taken his last spin around USF's campus in his green 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix.
Amichia became the third Bull of the day to go off the board when the Packers picked him in the sixth round (212th overall selection).
Green Bay was among three teams Amichia visited in the months leading to the draft. His South Carolina-based agent, Austin Atkinson, said the Packers began inquiring about Amichia even before the Super Bowl.
"They have been showing interest the longest," Atkinson said.
Amichia's solid workout at USF's pro day in March followed an excruciating senior year, which included a dislocated right kneecap sustained during the Temple game.
Moreover, he might be the only player in the draft who played for five different position coaches in as many seasons.
"I've never coached a guy in my career that I could sit there and say I was his fifth coach in one career," former Bulls line coach Darren Hiller said.
"But the other thing is, he's a pretty intelligent football player. I mean, he's got a degree already (in information technology), but he's also a pretty intelligent football player as well."...
The agonizing weekend wait for USF career rushing leader Marlon Mack finally ended Saturday when the Colts drafted the three-time 1,000-yard rusher in the fourth round with the 143rd overall pick.
Mack watched the draft from his Sarasota home, but wasn't immediately available for comment. The 15th running back drafted, Mack was taken with a Colts compensatory pick (from the 49ers).
Twenty-seven picks later, Bulls teammate Rodney Adams -- a Lakewood High alumnus -- was drafted by the Vikings, in the fifth round....
Former Admiral Farragut multi-position star Rayshawn Jenkins, who made 33 career starts at Miami, was drafted Saturday in the fourth round (113th overall) by the Chargers.
The second 'Canes player drafted behind first-round TE David Njoku, Jenkins sparkled at the NFL Scouting Combine, hoisting 19 reps on the bench press and recording a 37-inch vertical leap....
After months of cone drills and conjecture, visits and vertical leaps, ceaseless pontification about upsides and motors and hip swivels, we've reached this point.
The tipping point.
We know what you're saying: Just draft already and be done with it. We get it. The NFL Draft arguably has surpassed the Super Bowl as the planet's most overblown annual sports event. The very next mockup you see just might induce vomiting.
Well, take a swig of Pepto and bear with us just once more. Here, for the last time in 2017, is our USF-centric draft projection (in alphabetical order):
WR Rodney Adams
Adams recorded a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, presumably silencing those who underestimated his speed. His ball-security issues at USF did him no favors, and he'll have to add weight (he weighed 189 pounds at the Combine), but this Lakewood High alumnus' burst, agility and elusiveness will get him in an NFL camp. Projection: Free-agent signee
OL Kofi Amichia
We see Amichia as the second Bull to go off the draft board. This first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick possesses all the tools to flourish as an NFL interior lineman, with the ability to shift to tackle in a pinch. The fact he didn't miss a game last season despite dislocating his right kneecap at Temple in October probably has endeared him to a scout or two. Projection: Day 3 (late rounds)
S Nate Godwin
Like Nigel Harris (see below), Godwin arrived at USF's pro day prepared, and it showed (37-inch vertical, 19 reps of 225). Though he emerged from the gate slowly as a senior (due to a nagging hamstring injury), Godwin still made 38 career starts. We've always felt his speed was underrated, which leads us to believe he'll get a look in a camp. Projection: Free-agent signee
OLB Nigel Harris
This Hillsborough High alumnus showed up at USF's pro day chiseled (220 pounds) and prepared, and it showed in his performance (4.53 in the 40, 36-inch vertical). We've heard he also performed well at a regional NFL combine in Houston in mid-February, and got an invitation to the Bucs' local-players workout. Projection: Free-agent signee
RB Marlon Mack
We've been saying for a couple of months now that we project Mack as a draft sleeper, and that hasn't changed. We've spent the last three autumns watching this three-time 1,000-yard rusher brandish his size, flexibility, versatility and explosiveness. Now that scouts and front-office types have watched him, we believe a number of them will be inclined to snag him sooner rather than later. Projection: Day 2 (Round 2 or 3)...
Something about USF tackle Kofi Amichia didn't correlate. In pre-draft workouts, observers saw a behemoth with burst, a hulk with hip flexibility.
Amichia would hoist 30 or more reps of 225 pounds on the bench, then crush the agility drills.
But where had this guy been against Navy? Against SMU?
"One team told me, 'When you look at his pro day numbers, he's a superior athlete and the film doesn't match the pro day numbers,'" said Austin Atkinson, Amichia's agent.
That's when the details -- gory ones, at that -- would surface. What the scouts saw on tape was a guy wincing through the final stretch of his college career, hoping that right kneecap wouldn't again slide out of place. In the absence of NFL-caliber potential, these evaluators were seeing NFL-caliber perseverance.
"He was playing on survival mode a little bit (last year)," former Bulls offensive line coach Darren Hiller said.
Today, that toughness, combined with a more stabilized knee and at least two head-turning pre-draft workouts, have elevated Amichia's NFL stock. The Georgia native, whose parents were born in Ghana, formally has visited four teams and has received overtures from several others.
He has worked out for the 49ers. The Redskins had him in for a visit that spanned several hours. The Packers began asking about him in early February.
"Most of 'em kind of say the same thing," Amichia said. "They just like my versatility I can bring."
If not taken on Day 3 of this weekend's NFL Draft, Amichia -- a first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick and winner of USF's Tough Man Award last season -- is a lock to sign a free-agent deal shortly after the seventh round....
On the same day a mild cold front wafted its way through the area, the warming trend within USF athletics continued.
Or more specifically, it climbed -- to scalding, scorching hot.
The Bulls now have claimed three American Athletic Conference titles in five days. The latest trophy was hoisted Tuesday afternoon on Innisbrook's Copperhead course, moments after the men's golf team completed a three-day, wire-to-wire triumph for its third consecutive league title.
"Our motto, to be quite honest with you for this last month, has been 'Do Our Job,'" said third-year Bulls coach Steve Bradley, who never has finished a day below the top of the conference tournament leaderboard during his USF tenure.
"If you do your job, the team will be just fine. And they did their job this week, the team did their job this week, and we came out champs."
USF's three-day, 5-over-par 857 was 15 strokes better than runners-up Houston and Cincinnati. Individually, junior Cristian DiMarco finished 1-under for the tournament and nearly claimed the individual crown, falling in a one-hole playoff to Houston's Michael Perras.
DiMarco's roommate, former Freedom High standout Jimmy Jones, finished a stroke back despite a partially torn tendon in his right index finger. A lifetime hockey player who said he put away his stick in December, Jones said his finger discomfort this week was "minimal."
"They're best friends, they live together, they're roommates," Bradley said. "For them to lead us the way they led us this week, you need efforts like that in order to win team championships."
Three shots off the lead entering Tuesday, DiMarco had a bogey-free final round, notching a birdie on the 575-yard, par-5 11th to go 1-under. But he failed to get up and down in the sudden-death playoff on No. 18 against Perras when a chip on his third shot didn't reach the green.
Jones, 3-under entering Tuesday, shot even par on the front nine before hitting three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back.
"Jimmy has played pretty well this month of April minus the N.C. State event (two weekends ago), because he had (the injury)," Bradley said.
"So I think Jimmy didn't really have a whole lot of expectations going into this week because he didn't really know until Friday night whether he was gonna play or not. So I think that kind of kept his mind off what could happen."
Senior Rigel Fernandes finished 5-over for the tournament to finish tied for ninth. Junior Priyanshu Singh finished 6-over to tie for 11th. Junior Claudio Correa, who struggled mightily on Day 1, followed Monday's 2-over 73 with a 72 on Tuesday and finished tied for 20th (10-over).
"To have two guys have a chance to win individually is certainly pretty cool," Bradley said. "But throughout the week they all contributed, so it was a huge team win for us. It was pretty awesome."...
Two former Duke defensive linemen dismissed from the Blue Devils program earlier this year have announced via Twitter they are transferring to USF.
DE Marquies Price and DT Brandon Boyce, both significant contributors for Duke as sophomores last fall, will have to sit out the 2017 season per NCAA transfer requirements.
Runningthebulls.com first reported the transfers Monday.
Price started 11 of 12 games last year, while Boyce played in eight after being suspended the first three contests for a disciplinary issue. Collectively, they had 30 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2016.
Both were let go in February for "failing to meet the standards of a member of the program," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said at the time.
Boyce was ranked the nation's 43rd-best defensive lineman by Rivals.com coming out of Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas. He was a two-time first-team all-state pick, first at Fort Lauderdale University (Class 4A) in 2013 and at Aquinas (7A) his senior season.
Price totaled five forced fumbles and nine sacks his final two seasons at Peach County High in Fort Valley, Ga. Ranked the nation's No. 36 weakside defensive end by Rivals.com for the Class of 2015, he enrolled at Duke in January of that year....
It appears USF has landed the biggest commitment -- literally -- of the Brian Gregory era to date.
Nikola Scekic, a 7-foot-2, 250-pound Serbia native who played half a season at New Mexico before leaving, announced late Sunday evening via Twitter he has committed to USF.
Scekic, who helped lead Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College to a juco national title this past season, is expected to be eligible right away. He was recruited primarily by new assistant Tom Herrion, and visited the campus earlier this month....
One of the most glorious weekends in USF tennis history ended Sunday with the top-seeded Bulls men rallying for a 4-1 triumph against UCF in the American Athletic Conference tournament final in Orlando.
The title -- the men's fourth in a row -- arrived less than 24 hours after the seventh-seeded women capped an improbable tournament romp with a 4-2 victory against top-seeded Tulsa in the women's championship match.
It's the first time since 2014 the USF men and women have swept the conference tourneys.
On Sunday, the men dropped the doubles point before earning four singles victories in straight sets. The clincher came at No. 2, where junior Justin Roberts completed a 6-4, 6-4 victory against Danny Kerznerman.
Sasha Gozun, Vadym Kalyuzhnyy and Jakub Wojcik also won in singles for the Bulls. Gozun, USF's 6-foot-5 senior No. 1 player, won two singles matches and a pair of doubles matches in the tournament en route to being named Most Outstanding Player....
The Bulls women's tennis team's improbable romp through the American Athletic Conference tournament culminated Saturday with a 4-2 triumph against top-seeded Tulsa in the title match at Lake Nona.
The No. 7 seed -- and a .500 team -- entering the tournament, USF (14-10) upset the three top seeds in as many days for its second AAC title and 13th conference crown overall.
Clinching Saturday's victory was No. 5 singles player Nicole Dzenga, who eked out a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory against Martha Matoula. No. 2 Vera Bessonova also won in three sets.
Earlier in the day, Dzenga had teamed with classmate Vanja Klaric for a 7-6 triumph at No. 3 doubles to help the Bulls earn the doubles point.
Saturday's triumph occurred on the heels of Friday's 4-2 victory against No. 3 SMU, and Thursday's 4-1 win against second-seeded Tulane. The Golden Hurricane and Green Wave both defeated USF in the regular season.
On the men's side, the top-seeded Bulls (16-8) rolled to a 4-0 semifinal triumph against Memphis, setting up Sunday's noon title match against third-seeded UCF. The match can be watched here.
WESLEY CHAPEL — National anthems were sung robustly. National flags were hoisted. There was a drum line and dueling trumpets on opposite sides of the grandstand, blaring in a phonic rally across center court.
Fed Cup tennis at its most intense.
"It was incredible," U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said.
On a warm, partly cloudy Saturday afternoon, CoCo Vandeweghe mostly basked in this convergence of pageantry, patriotism and a pristine clay court. Shelby Rogers periodically struggled in it. As a result, the United States and Czech Republic were tied 1-1 after the first day of their semifinal at Saddlebrook....