Going up against the best team in the conference without the benefit of the presence of their head coach, USF put Ryan Valdes on the mound and hoped he would give them a good chance to win. He did just that, throwing five innings of shutout baseball before giving up two runs in the sixth. He finished with six innings pitched, three hits, two runs and seven strikeouts. Houston was up 2-0 when Valdes left the game.
After USF scored a run in the bottom of the sixth, Michael Farley was brought in to pitch the seventh and it looked like he had things under control, getting the first batter to hit a ground ball to third base. The trouble came when the ball got to third baseman Andres Leal and rolled between his legs into left field, where Zac Gilcrease couldn't get a handle on it. The Bulls were credited with two errors on that play. After a sacrifice fly gave Houston a 3-0 lead, Kevin Merrell made a bad throw to first, which let another run score. This was all before Houston's Jacob Campbell smashed a double to right center to score two more runs. This fateful inning included three errors for USF and four runs for Houston.
Tommy Eveld came in to pitch the eighth, where he let runners camp out in scoring position before striking out one batter and giving up another run on a sacrifice fly. Houston was up 7-1 going into the bottom of the eighth. Jordan Strittmatter pitched a strong ninth inning for USF, but the Bulls had trouble getting any offensive support for their pitchers in this game.
Houston's Andrew Lantrip kept USF under control at the plate for most of his seven innings, giving up three hits and striking out ten batters. He had just one run until the eighth inning, when he let the Bulls load the bases with no outs. Aaron Fletcher replaced Lantrip and let two USF runs score on sacrifice flies. However, by that time an out for Houston was worth more than a run for USF, and the Bulls' modest rally came to an end.
In the bottom of the ninth, down 7-3, USF had Daniel Portales pinch hit for Luke Maglich, who had done little more than strike out at the plate. Portales promptly struck out as well. Levi Borders was then hit by a pitch and advanced to second base on a wild pitch by Fletcher. Buddy Putnam then walked, and Luke Borders struck out. Zac Gilcrease then hit a single off the glove of Houston's shortstop to load the bases for Andres Leal. Leal hit the ball hard to second base and it looked like he might reach on an error, but the game ended as the second baseman threw him out ahead of his desperate dive toward first base.
This was an ugly afternoon if you're a Bulls fan. There were enough base running errors, fielding errors, throwing errors, wild pitches and hit batters to fill two games. "Obviously we didn't play very well today; anybody that was in the ball park could see that," said assistant coach Mike Current. "There were a lot of things within our control that we just didn't do very well today."
Losing this game means the Bulls will have a rematch against Memphis Friday at 11:00 AM. Casey Mulholland will get the start and USF will need to win to stay in the tournament. When asked about Memphis, Current said he's more concerned about what USF can do to iron out their mistakes. "Honestly at this point in time it's much more about us and taking care of the things that we do. We need to be better on the bases, we need to play better defense, and we need to get another pitching performance out of Casey like we did out of Ryan today."
Winning the Memphis rematch tomorrow morning will give the Bulls a rematch against Houston on Saturday morning, so there's no easy road ahead in this tournament. However, more important than this tournament is getting into the NCAAs. Right now USF is on the bubble and a win tomorrow would go a long way solidifying their spot. So there is a lot to play for tomorrow and hopefully a lot more baseball in store for the Bulls this spring.