The University of South Florida Bulls (11-1) hosted the Jacksonville University Dolphins (6-7) on Tuesday for a mid-week in-state battle.
Ryan Valdes took the mound for the Bulls; struggling while trying to find his groove in the first. He allowed a leadoff single and walked the fourth batter he faced, but made it through the inning unscathed.
Meanwhile Jacksonville’s starter, Nathan Disch, had a rocky start of his own as the red-hot Bulls would take advantage.
Kevin Merrell worked the count and earned a walk to start bottom of the first and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Coco Montes was hit by a pitch on a 1-2 count, and after Luke Borders flied out, David Villar wore his own two-strike pitch to load up the bases. Duke Stunkel Jr. struck out for the second out of the inning but Joe Genord kept the inning rolling with a walk, getting the first of his team-high three RBIs. Chris Chatfield brought two more around with a double rocked to the opposite field wall.
“That was very pleasing to see. That guy was a good pitcher, had good stuff, and had good numbers. He’s had a lot of success so to see us do what we did... we had good discipline, he helped us a little bit with some walks and we got some big hits today which we’ve been missing out on a little on lately,” said head coach Mark Kingston. “It was good to see we were selective enough to get on base and then get some really big hits too.”
Valdes came back out for the second and gave USF nothing but lights-out baseball for his next four innings of work. Jacksonville’s Franco Guardascione led off the second inning with a single, but Valdes would get the groundball to Montes who flipped it to Merrell for the 4-6-3 double play and wouldn’t allow another baserunner.
“He just settled in. He’s had a little bit of a pattern of that, where it takes him a little time to get settled into the game, get into the rhythm of the game, but once he does he’s really good,” said Kingston. “That happened again tonight so we just need to continue to search for ways to help him be good from the first pitch of the game, because once he settled in he was outstanding. I thought he had command of all his pitches, his stuff was good and he really competed. Outside of that first inning, I thought he was great.”
Valdes was pulled before the start of the sixth inning with a final line of five innings pitched, two hits, no earned runs and just one walk alongside his seven strikeouts.
“Our mantra tonight, and for the rest of the season, is that we have more work to do. Every single game is a process,” said Valdes. “We’ve got to come out and work harder than the other team and that’s you get the victory. You’ve got to work harder than them, prepare before games and take that into the game.”
“Going after the hitters and attacking the hitters is the key. Get first pitch strikes. A lot of these guys have good stuff so if you get first pitch strikes you can go out and show that good stuff and get the strikeouts, groundballs, double plays, stuff like that.”
The bottom of the second, for all intents and purposes, marked the final nail in the coffin for the Dolphins. USF manufactured five runs behind a hit batter, a walk, three singles and triple from another monstrous shot off the bat of Chatfield, extending their lead to 8-0.
USF added three more runs with a two-run blast from Genord in the fourth and a sacrifice fly from Montes in the fifth. Jacksonville was finally able to break through late, scoring all six of their runs in the final four innings, but it wasn’t enough to keep USF from grabbing their longest win streak since 2013.
USF won’t have much time to enjoy this win, though. The Bulls will be back in action at home tomorrow when they host Villanova at 6:30 p.m.