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USF seeks to knock off regular season champ UCF in AAC baseball tourney

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The American Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament begins today in Clearwater. Spectrum Field will host the 8-team event featuring the Central Florida Knights and the South Florida Bulls.

Top-seeded UCF, who took two of three from USF to take the regular season title, will take on the number 8 seed East Carolina Pirates beginning at 7:00 p.m. The fourth-seeded Bulls will face the fifth seed, the Tulane Green Wave, beginning at 3:30 p.m.

The tournament runs through Sunday with the championship game slated for noon.

Both USF and UCF are in good position to receive invitations to the NCAA Tournament no matter how they fare over the next few days. The Knights carry a 38-18 record into the tournament and have a current national ranking of 21st, according to the Ratings Percentage Index. The Bulls are 40-15 with an RPI rating of 18.

UCF earned the regular season title and top seed the hard way last weekend. After dropping the opener of the season’s final series against USF on Thursday, the Knights stormed back to win the final two games to earn a share of the title with Houston. UCF beat the Cougars two out of three earlier in the season to earn the tie breaker.

Following Saturday’s season finale, Knights’ first-year coach Greg Lovelady was understandably emotional.

“It’s been an awesome day. I’ll never forget it,” said Lovelady, the AAC Coach of the Year. “I’m proud of these kids.”

Just one year ago, UCF finished at the bottom of the AAC standings.

The Bulls, under Coach Mark Kingston, may be the fourth seed, but have more than enough to take the tournament crown.  They won 6 of the 9 games they played against UCF and Houston.

They lost 2 of 3 to the third-seeded Connecticut Huskies. All four teams could earn a bid to the tournament.

Houston has an RPI ranking of 24 and UConn is number 39. A total of 64 teams will be chosen with the tournament winner receiving an automatic bid.

If both the Bulls and Knights win on Tuesday, they will meet for the seventh time this season on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. They would also play each other should both lose their games on Tuesday.

Both of today’s games featuring the Knights and the Bulls will be televised over the CBS Sports Network (not the regular CBS).

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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