Taylor Jenkins

USF cruises to a win behind early offense; another great Bulls debut for pitching staff

The Bulls needed a late rally Friday night just to split their first two games of the season, but scored early and often while keeping Iowa off the board on Sunday to take their first series of the year.

The USF Bulls hosted the Iowa Hawkeyes for the third and final game of the season’s opening series on Sunday. The Bulls took an early lead in the first inning and never looked back.

From the start of the first, junior right hander Peter Strzelecki got into a groove that he’d ride for the rest of the day. He sat down the first three batters Iowa sent to the plate, and wouldn’t allow a baserunner until the top of the third.

Coming off of Tommy John surgery and making his first Division I start, Strzelecki stood much taller than his résumé. He was pulled from the game after 81 pitches through five innings and had surrendered just one hit, no runs and three walks while striking out six Hawkeyes.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a very long time. A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of days working hard, so yeah, I’ve been looking forward to it,” said Strzelecki when asked how it felt to be back on the mound.

Joe Cavallaro took over and gave up just one hit and one walk through the sixth and seventh innings, Mark Savarese handled the eighth with no trouble, and closer Andrew Perez gave up a couple of hits in the ninth before turning around and striking out the side.

“I thought [Strzelecki] threw well. He did exactly what we needed. Him going a little deeper than we did yesterday allowed us to use some guys in the bullpen exactly the way we wanted to with Cavallaro getting two, and Mark getting one, and Andrew getting one,” said USF head coach Mark Kingston. “Our pitchers did exactly what we needed them to do today, starting with Pete. Pete was good, he had good command, his pitches had good life on them and he was tough to hit. I thought the big thing is, for his first Division I start, he had great poise. . . So that was great to see.”

But it wasn’t just USF’s pitching staff that caught fire on Sunday.

In the first inning, the Bulls were able to draw two leadoff walks on eight consecutive pitches before a double down the line by senior Luke Borders drove in both runs. Then following a strikeout, true freshman Anthony Gonnella found a hole in the right side of the infield, getting both his first career hit and first career RBI on one swing, pushing the Bulls’ lead to three.

In the bottom of the second, Iowa pulled their starter, Shane Ritter, and started the inning with long reliever Ryan Erickson, but Coco Montes wouldn’t give him any time to settle in, driving a home run deep to right on Erickson’s second pitch.

The Bulls’ would add on two more insurance runs with another RBI single from Borders in the sixth, and an RBI single from Chris Chatfield in the eighth.

All things considered, this was a great way to close out your first weekend of baseball if you’re USF. Playing a Big 10 opponent who won 30 games last year, while being able to show off all your weapons in a big Sunday win will definitely be a good thing to have rolling around in the team’s head as they get the season rolling.

The Bulls next game will be Tuesday at 4 p.m. as they take on the Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee.

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