Saturday: USF 7, Houston 4
“The story of the game was Peter Strzelecki,” said Mark Kingston Saturday night after USF overcame an early 4-0 deficit to knock off Houston 7-4 in the second game of their critical weekend series. Even though Strzelecki only lasted an inning and two-thirds, his mere presence on the mound after unexpectedly losing his father earlier in the week was a rallying point for the whole team.
“You have to have such strength of character to be here tonight, to be on that mound. I could not have done it,” Kingston added.
Perhaps looking to atone for the two errors they made in the second inning, the Bulls erased the entire Houston lead in the third. Duke Stunkel’s one-out single was followed by a Garrett Zech double to left. Luke Borders followed with a base hit to score them both and cut the Cougars’ lead in half. Then Joe Genord launched a two-run homer over the left-field wall to tie the game at 4.
The Bulls took the lead in the fourth when Houston shortstop Jake Scheiner threw wildly to first after fielding a Coco Montes grounder. Montes ended up on second base, then scored on a Chris Chatfield single. USF pushed across a pair of insurance runs in the eighth inning, while relievers Ryan Valdes and Joe Cavallaro locked down the Houston offense after Strzelecki left. In the final 7 1⁄3 innings, Houston managed only one hit and struck out 11 times.
“To fall behind 4-0... for (Strzelecki’s) team, and his boys, and his brothers, to win that game for him like that, it’s one of the all timers for me,” said Kingston.
Sunday: USF 5, Houston 4
Like they had on Friday and Saturday night, the Bulls fell behind early again in Sunday’s rubber game of the series. A sac fly and RBI double in the first inning put Houston ahead 2-0. Connor Wong’s RBI triple in the second inning extended the lead to 3-0. USF got a run back in the third on a Luke Borders RBI single, but a bases-loaded walk in the seventh canceled it out and Houston led 4-1.
In the bottom of the inning, the Cougars went to the bullpen and brought in Tyler Bielamowicz. Chatfield flew out to right to lead off the inning, but when Bielamowicz walked Zech on four pitches, Houston called on Joey Pulido to try and prevent a rally. Just 11 pitches later, USF had the lead.
Andres Leal singled to right. Then Stunkel’s base hit scored Zech and moved Leal to third. The next hitter, Montes, dragged a bunt down the first-base line on a squeeze play. Instead of going to first and trading a run for an out, the Cougars tried for a play at the plate, but Leal got there ahead of the throw to cut the deficit to 4-3. Finally, Borders launched a drive to right-center that fell in for a double. Stunkel scored, and Montes came all the way around from first to give the Bulls a 5-4 lead.
Starter Shane McClanahan lasted 6 1⁄3 innings, giving up four runs and six hits. He walked two and struck out eight. Andrew Perez got the win in relief and Cavallaro earned the save. Each pitched an inning and a third and allowed just one baserunner apiece.
The Bulls are now 34-10 and sitting in a five-way tie atop the American standings. USF, C., Houston (28-15), Tulane, and UConn are all 9-6 in conference play. USF’s last homestand of the regular season continues with a Wednesday night game against FGCU, followed by a weekend series with East Carolina.