CLEARWATER – USF Baseball’s run through the loser’s bracket of the American Athletic Conference Tournament came to a close Friday afternoon after a 3-2 walk-off loss to the UConn Huskies.
With USF closer Andrew Perez working his third inning in relief, the Huskies (35-19-1) loaded the bases with one out for Troy Stefanski. The Bulls (35-20-1) brought the infield halfway and Stefasnki chopped a grounder over Bulls’ shortstop Coco Montes’ head and into center field for the game-ending hit.
“I’m proud as heck to be these guys’ coach,” Billy Mohl said after the game. “The grit and determination they showed all week was unbelievable. No other team that’s remaining played the same schedule we have.”
Perez (5-3) was charged with the loss in the Bulls’ fifth game in three days after 2.1 innings of work. He allowed the one run on four hits while striking out two and walking one.
After Collin Sullivan and Alec Wisely turned in a pair of complete games in win-or-go-home situations on Thursday, head coach Billy Mohl turned the ball over to freshman Baron Stuart to start Friday’s semifinal.
Stuart went four innings and surrendered just one run on two hits, struck out four and walked six. He received a no-decision, but gave the Bulls a chance to win it and that’s all the team could’ve asked for from the freshman.
After falling behind 1-0 on a wild pitch in the first, Joe Genord hit a solo home run, his third HR in as many games, to tie things up in the third inning. Genord finished the week with three homers and six RBI’s.
The Bulls jumped in front in the fifth when outfielder Duke Stunkel, Jr. crushed his third home run of the year to left-center.
Freshman Graham Hoffman continued the theme of clutch pitching when he inherited a bases loaded, nobody out situation in the fifth and struck out the first two he faced before Chris Winkel lined out to Montes to end the threat and keep USF in front 2-1.
“That’s a freshman (Hoffman) just out there competing,” Mohl said. “I was really proud of him.”
UConn tied it up at 2-2 the following inning when Anthony Nucerino scored on a wild pitch. Hoffman tossed two innings, allowed just the one run on two hits with two strikeouts.
The Bulls threatened to take the lead again in the top of the ninth, but Huskies closer P.J Poulin shut the door. Garrett Zech led off the inning with one of his two hits on the day.
After a Tyler Dietrich sac bunt, the table was set for the top of the order with the go-ahead runner in scoring position with only one out. Poulin (6-2), who received the win, got Montes and Stunkel to ground out to end the threat.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Bulls have an iron-man behind the plate in Dietrich. The junior caught all 43 innings USF played this week in the scorching Florida heat, including doubleheaders on back-to-back days.
UConn will face ECU for the tournament championship Saturday at 10 a.m. at Spectrum Field.
For the Bulls, they head back to Tampa for a couple days of well-deserved rest before they find out where they’ll be heading for the NCAA tournament next week. D1Baseball.com projects USF as a two-seed in the regional hosted by Stetson in Deland, FL.