In what was probably the biggest game for USF baseball in two decades, the Bulls found themselves hanging around with the top-seeded Florida Gators in a 1-1 game entering the 12th inning on Saturday night at McKethan Field.
And then they didn’t.
After the Gators Christian Hicks led off the 12th with a single, a comedy of infield errors by first baseman Joe Genord allowed him to come all the way around to score the go-ahead run. The Bulls never recovered and went on to lose 5-1, forcing themselves into an elimination game Sunday afternoon against Bethune-Cookman in the Gainesville Regional.
A routine pick-off attempt at first base was botched when Genord was unable to field the throw from pitcher Andrew Perez. The ball found its way to the wall in foul territory, then Genord threw it baseline to baseline attempting to gun down Gators pinch runner Blake Reese at third. The throw was high and over the head of Bulls third baseman David Villar, allowing Reese to score easily for the 2-1 lead.
Florida would eventually load the bases and score three more times in the inning to seal the win.
“Our defense for most of the night, expect for one play, was remarkable,” USF head coach Mark Kingston said. “The kids played their hearts out so I told them I had nothing but respect for what I saw... we were one hit short. We had four or five chances to get one hit and we didn't get it.”
USF tied the game at one in the bottom of the fifth when Duke Stunkel Jr. singled home Genord. It was the only run allowed by Florida starter (and likely first-round MLB draft pick) Alex Faedo, who went seven innings and scattered four hits while fanning ten Bulls hitters.
But as Kingston pointed out after the game, the Bulls had plenty of other chances to take a lead and possibly get into the Gators bullpen a bit earlier. USF threatened with runners in scoring position with just one out in the third, eighth, and tenth innings but came up empty each time.
Florida Closer Michael Byrne entered in the eighth, and went five innings allowing just three hits and striking out another eight USF hitters.
USF starter Shane McClanahan was replaced by Ryan Valdes after a 38-minute lightning delay that halted the game in the top half of the third inning. “Shane just got a little stiff there, and we wanted to air on the side of protecting him. The pitchers after him did a remarkable job,” Kingston added.
It was a combination of four pitchers after McClanahan’s departure for USF: Ryan Valdes, Joe Cavallaro, Andrew Perez, and Mark Savarese.
Andrew Perez was impressive working 3.1 innings, escaping big trouble in the Gators tenth and getting a 1-2-3 inning in the eleventh. One thing Perez didn’t get much of was help from his defense.
"At the end of the day it's one big hit, one key hit, and one error kills it. We still have to play another game tomorrow,” said Perez.
USF does have to play another game tomorrow (in fact, just about 12 hours after the final out was recorded in this one) and they will have to stave-off elimination in a second meeting with Bethune-Cookman. Per Kingston, Peter Strzelecki is expected to start the game for USF at 12:00 p.m.
The winner of the 12:00 p.m. game will be back to take on the Gators at 7:00 p.m. Applications for enrolled undergraduate USF students that would like to pitch in that contest will be accepted at McKethan Stadium by team managers tomorrow afternoon. Because there is no bullpen left.