USF overcame four fielding errors and some shaky starting pitching to beat Toledo 6-3 Sunday, sweeping the weekend series with the Rockets and extending their winning streak to nine games.
USF (10-1) is off to their best start since 1982. That team started 11-1 and went on to a 45-13 season, including the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance.
“I don’t think it was our best day pitching, but it was good enough,” head coach Mark Kingston said. “When you don’t have your best day and still only give up three runs on a day you make four errors, I think that speaks to the quality of our pitching right now.”
The four errors were the most by USF in a game since last February 27 vs. Eastern Michigan. The Bulls had committed just six errors on the year coming into Sunday.
CF Garrett Zech got things started for the Bulls in the second inning when he singled home RF Duke Stunkel Jr.. SS Kevin Merrell followed that up with a double off the third base bag to score Zech and give USF an early 2-0 lead.
However, starting RHP Peter Strzelecki and the defense was all too happy to give back that lead in the top of the third. Strzelecki got C Corey Tipton to fly out to center, but then gave up a single to the number nine hitter 2B Riley Campbell, who was hitting an amazing .129 entering Sunday. He walked SS Matt Hansen on four pitches to get himself in more trouble.
1B Joe Genord fielded a ground ball from RF A.J. Montoya and instead of taking the sure out at first, he whipped around and threw it directly into the back of Hansen, allowing Campbell to score Toledo’s first run. CF Ross Adolph singled in Hansen to tie the game, but he was thrown out trying to advance to second on a heads-up play by C Andres Leal. A wild pitch from Strzelecki scored Montoya to give the Rockets a 3-2 lead before the inning ended.
Strzelecki only lasted 32⁄3 innings before making way for freshman LHP Noah Yager. He gave up four hits and three runs (only one earned), walked four, and struck out two on 64 pitches.
USF took the lead back in the bottom of the fourth Zech scored Stunkel with an RBI double, then Merrell drove in Zech, and finally 2B Coco Montes singled in Merrell to give the Bulls the lead for good at 5-3.
The Bulls would tack on one more run on a Genord fielders’ choice. Five of the six runs USF scored Sunday came with two outs. The team was 7-for-15 with RISP.
Zech and Merrell continue to be a terror with the bat and on the base paths. They were a combined 5-for-8 with three RBIs, four runs, one walk and three stolen bases.
“Some teams, once you get past their fifth or sixth [hitter] the bottom of the lineup becomes a weakness,” Kingston said. “But, to have a guy [like Zech] with that kind of speed or ability to bunt or drive in runs like he did today, that lengthens your lineup and that’s something you want to have.”
USF welcomes in Jacksonville on Tuesday and Villanova on Wednesday. Freshman D.J. Roberts will start one of the games, but who he will face and who will pitch the other game have not been decided.
- Closer Andrew Perez pitched two innings and struck out four en route to his second save of the year. He now has 12 K’s in 6 IP.
- Yager earned his second win of the year to move to 2-0.
- Merrell is 8-for-8 on stolen base attempts in 2017 and is up to 45 career steals. He only needs five more steals to become one of USF’s top 10 career base stealers.