Mission "Get Back to .500" took a hit Friday night as USF (21-24, 6-10) dropped the series opener vs #16 Tulane.
Bulls pitching gave up three home runs on the night, the dagger being a 3-run shot by second baseman Jake Willsey in the eighth inning, his second clout of the game. Willsey was ejected in the ninth for arguing balls and strikes after being punched out looking.
USF starter Phoenix Sanders went five innings and gave up three earned runs, striking out eight and walking three over 112 pitches, 71 for strikes. After the second inning he settled down a bit until he ran into trouble in the fifth.
Sanders walked the first two batters of the inning, then after a strikeout he intentionally walked lefty Lex Kaplan to load the bases and set up the double play. He then struck out Hunter Hope (11 HR) and got some help from Kevin Merrell on a ball up the middle to escape the inning without any damage.
"I thought Phoenix was solid tonight," manager Mark Kingston said. "It wasn't his best outing and he left some balls, and they hurt him when he did."
Builds reliever Brad Labozzetta had a night to forget, conceding six earned runs in three innings on two hits and four walks. In the sixth his two wild pitches during the same at-bat scored two runs for Tulane to push the lead to 5-2.
Shortstop Coco Montes doubled two runs home in the bottom half of the 7th to cut it to a one-run game.
Luke Maglich went 1-4 with a home run, and Merrell was 1-2 with three walks. He was also caught stealing for the first time all season by Tulane catcher Jake Rogers, who also cut down Garrett Zech trying to steal as well. Rogers has a lightning-quick release that will see him get drafted in June.
"We're not gonna shy away from anything," Kingston said. "When the opportunity presents itself to steal, we'll steal but we're gonna be smart about it.