Kevin Merrell’s bases-clearing double broke open a close game in the 11th inning as the USF baseball team defeated C. 7-4 at John Euliano Park*. The win was USF’s 40th of the season, their first time reaching that milestone since 1996.
The Bulls (40-13, 14-8 American) fell behind 2-0 in the third inning when Kyle Marsh drove a two-run double to right center off starter Phoenix Sanders. Those were the only runs Sanders would allow, along with six hits and two walks in seven innings. He threw 113 pitches and struck out four.
C. (36-18, 13-9 American) maintained that lead until the top of the eighth. With two outs, Kevin Merrell singled up the middle, and then Duke Stunkel, Jr. hit his first home run of the season to tie the game at 2.
The Bulls then took a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth. David Villar led off with a walk and was moved over to second base by Tyler Dietrich. After Garrett Zech struck out, Coco Montes’ base hit scored Villar to put USF ahead. Their lead didn’t last long, however, as pinch-hitter Ryan Crile led off the bottom of the ninth with a solo shot off Joe Cavallaro to tie the game again.
Neither team scored in the 10th, but USF quickly mounted a threat in the 11th. A walk and two HBP loaded the bases for the Bulls with no outs. The Knights almost got out of that mess, drawing two forceouts at home. Fortunately Cameron Montgomery walked on four pitches to give the Bulls a 4-3 lead. Then with the bases still loaded, Merrell’s three-run double gave USF some breathing space.
C. pulled one run back in the bottom half of the 11th and had the tying run at the plate with two out, but Cavallaro closed the door.
Cavallaro pitched the last 3 1⁄3 innings to get the win. Bryce Tucker, who gave up four runs on only one hit in that 11th inning, took the loss.
With the win, USF temporarily takes sole possession of first place in The American with a 14-8 record. Houston, still playing at Cincinnati as of this writing, is a half-game behind. C. and UConn (winners over East Carolina today on their ridiculous Pony League field) are each one game back at 13-9.
* - We’re happy to note that C.’s baseball stadium is no longer named after Jay Bergman, who was fired under very unsavory circumstances. Took you guys long enough.