The USF baseball team was three outs away last night from going to the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals. Then the ninth inning happened, they lost 6-5 to the 8th-seeded East Carolina Pirates, and now they have to win three games in two days to make it to the finals.
Let’s start in the eighth inning with the Bulls leading 5-3 and cruising their way to the semis. CF Duke Stunkel Jr. struck out to end the inning, then slammed his bat down in frustration. It was an odd time for that, because he’s had a great tournament so far with clutch hits and great defense, even making the SportsCenter Top 10 on Tuesday night for an incredible catch in center.
His outburst was only the beginning.
In the top of the ninth, Joe Genord got to a 3-0 count and not once but TWICE started walking to first base thinking he’d drawn the walk before realizing the umpire called a strike. To top it off, he got called for batter interference when he stepped in front of Pirates catcher Travis Watkins as he tried to catch DH Luke Borders stealing. So instead of two out and Borders on second, it ended the inning.
Here’s an easy rule to go by: DON’T SHOW UP THE UMP.
It’s that simple. College umpires are mediocre on a good day. Don’t give them ammo to squeeze your pitcher when you’re on defense.
Guess what happened next.
In the bottom of the ninth, nine-hole hitter Drew Henrickson hitter a slow chopper to Merrell but beat the wide throw to first. Then pinch-hitter Luke Bolka drew a walk on some questionably squeezed pitches from Cavallaro. 2B Charlie Yorgen chopped a ball over the drawn-in defense that scored one run to make it 5-4. A sac fly to right by Watkins tied the game and Yorgen advanced to third.
ECU head coach Cliff Godwin made his $270,000 salary with possibly the best coaching move in the tournament so far. He pinch hit Spencer Brickhouse, his cleanup hitter, for Kirk Morgan. Morgan swung away and had a 1-1 count when he put down the perfect suicide bunt to score Yorgen from third and win the game.
RHP Joe Cavallaro had shut down the Pirates in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, and head coach Mark Kingston sent him back out there to close things out in the ninth. I don’t question the move to throw Cavallaro back out there, nor do I question keeping him in there when things got hairy. He was dinked and dunked to the loss. It happens.
“That last inning was pretty tough for a lot of different reasons. It is what it is,” Kingston said. “I though some crazy things happened in the ninth that were out of our control.”
That’s the diplomatic answer.
The Bulls got hosed, plain and simple.
Connor, who was at the game with me, pointed out that umpire David Condon did not call a single strike against five Pirates hitters in the bottom of the ninth. Every strike was off a foul ball. Condon didn’t like being shown up by Genord and punished him for it.
Afterwards, Genord flew off the handle, yelling at anyone and everyone in sight. Then the postgame handshake line ended in a shouting match with players having to be pulled apart.
This is the toughest loss I’ve seen in person since... ever? We’ve all watched horrible USFings, but to witness it in person is gut-wrenching.
Anyway, instead of being saved for the first (and maybe last) game on Saturday, Peter Strzelecki will start today vs C. at 3 p.m. Strzlecki gave up three runs in 4 2⁄3 innings last Saturday against the Knights.
Win tomorrow and who starts Saturday? Without midweek starter D.J. Roberts, and with Shane McClanahan and Phoenix Sanders both unavailable, the Bulls may have to staff day both games and throw the kitchen sink at ECU. Good luck with all that.
I’m checking with compliance to see if I have any eligibility left because I may have to help out. I throw a nasty palm ball, Kingston. You know my number.