The #23 Houston Cougars showed why they sit atop the American Conference standings, shelling USF Bulls ace Phoenix Sanders in a 7-3 win on Friday night at the USF Baseball Stadium. The loss marks the first three-game losing streak of the season for the Bulls and certainly not ideal timing with five teams within one game of the lead in the conference standings.
Sanders struggled from the start giving up a solo home run on the second pitch of the game to Cougars catcher Connor Wong. It would be one of three home runs conceded by Sanders, who would finish the night allowing seven runs on ten hits, striking out five in six innings.
“We left balls up in the zone, and that’s what big strong hitters like they have do. They hit the ball out of ballpark,” said USF head coach Mark Kingston after the game. “The lesson is get the ball down, and those are ground balls and line drives. Generally, Phoenix keeps the ball down but tonight he kept it up and it hurt him.”
The Cougars (28-13, 9-4 American) blew the game open with a four-run sixth inning just after USF cut the lead to a single run. Already leading 3-2, both Joe Julks and Corey Davis hit home runs in the inning for Houston.
Bright spots for the Bulls (32-10 ,7-6 American) included Garrett Zech’s first career home run in the fifth inning, and the USF bullpen did a nice job of containing the Cougars bats. The combination of Mark Savarese, Michael Farley, and Carson Ragsdale combined for three innings, allowing just one hit and striking out four to keep the damage in check.
The Bulls will now turn to RHP junior Peter Strzelecki on Saturday night looking to snap the three-game skid. Strzelecki, dealing with the death of his father this week, should be ready to go says Mark Kingston.
“He informed me he still wanted to pitch this weekend, so Saturday was still available for him. We both will be at the family funeral on Sunday”.
It’s sure to be an emotional day on the mound for Strzelecki and a crucial game in the standings for USF looking to get back on track in conference play.