Columbia and South Florida are meeting for the fifth time in program history and the first time since 2003. The Bulls hold a 3-1 advantage in the all-time series after winning the first three games in the 1970’s, but Columbia picked up the most recent victory, 9-8, in 2003. 

The Lions will be on the diamond for the first time in 2014, traveling to Tampa, Fla. to take on the USF Bulls in a four-game set. Columbia is coming off its 11th Ivy League title in program history last season and returns the core part of its rotation that helped the team match the program record with 28 wins last season.

The Bulls enter the weekend a spotless 7-0 coming off a three-game sweep of Penn State at home last weekend. This weekend’s series against Columbia is part of a 16-game homestand for South Florida that extends until March 25. 

Columbia begins its Ivy League title defense with an 18-game road marathon that features trips to Florida (USF), Georgia (Kennesaw St.), Texas (UTSA, Texas A&M, UT-Arlington and Texas) and a short journey to West Point, N.Y. to take on Army before hosting Brown in its first home doubleheader of the spring on March 29.

The Lions return the core of their rotation and the middle of a defense that led Columbia to its first NCAA Tournament victory last year. Senior hurlers David Speer and Joey Donino take their places atop the Columbia rotation joined by Adam Cline who spent the majority of 2013 as a Sunday starter for the Lions. Speer, a co-captain this season, captured first team All-Ivy League honors, while Donino earned a spot on the second team last year. Kevin Roy, Zack Tax, Thomas Crispi, Mike Weisman and David Spinosa, who were all key contributors out of the bull pen last year return and are joined by three first-years.

Senior co-captain Mike Fischer is back behind the dish again this season for the Lions. Among the best throw-and-catch catchers in the nation, Fischer threw out almost half (20-of-42) of opposing base stealers in 2013. He also brings balance to a veteran pitching staff he has worked with for all four years. The left side of the infield returns with senior co-captain Aaron Silbar manning shortstop, while David Vandercook holds down third base. Silbar finished last season with a .306 average and was named to the All-Ivy League first team, while Vandercook provided a sure glove at the hot corner, committing just six errors in 48 starts.

Junior Jordan Serena returns to his centerfield post after recording a clean slate in the field in 99 chances. Another first team All-Ivy League selection for the Lions, Serena finished last season with 27 stolen bases, the third-highest total in program history. He also slammed 16 doubles, the fourth-highest single season total in Columbia history. 

The corner outfield positions and the right side of the infield will have new faces this year, with juniors Gus Craig and Joey Falcone looking to earn the starting roles in the outfield. Two first-years in Kyle Bartelman and Shane Adams have been competing early on for time at second base, while sophomore Nick Maguire will be tapped early to take over first base duties. Sophomore Logan Boyher provides a number of options to the lineup as a dynamic utility player.

South Florida sports an unblemished 7-0 record heading into its third weekend of competition this season. Originally scheduled to host Maryland-Eastern Shore, travel difficulties instead forced USF to head to Jacksonville, Fla. To compete in the Best Bet Classic at North Florida. The Bulls took down the likes of Liberty, Richmond and UNF to begin the year 3-0. A midweek topping of Florida Gulf Coast preceded a three-game sweep of Penn State last weekend.

Junior outfielder Michael Arencibia has paced a strong offensive output for USF. The Key West, Fla., native is hitting at a .526 clip, with just one strikeout. Classmate Kyle Teaf has also had a torrid start to the year, posting a .423 average with 11 hits and 11 runs scored to lead the Bulls in that category. Sophomore outfielder Like Maglich is also hitting above .400 (.419) and leads USF with 13 hits and two long balls. 

Sophomore Jimmy Herget is the Bulls’ top pitcher, holding opposing hitters to a .182 batting average against to post a 2-0 record in his first two starts. Casey Mulholland has also started two games on hill this year, giving up seven runs and six walks. Brandon Lawson and Janick Serralonga are each also 1-0 for the Bulls this season.