After snapping their 19 game winning streak to FGCU on Wednesday, USF wasted no time getting back into the win column, defeating FAMU 11-1.
Senior Phoenix Sanders started on the mound for USF and pitched six innings of one run ball, allowing six hits to FAMU and striking out eight batters.
The USF offense got off to a fast start in the first inning. With typical leadoff man, shortstop Kevin Merrell, out of the lineup centerfielder Garrett Zech took over for Merell.
After an infield hit, Zech stole second and third base and scored on a passed ball. All of this happened before second man in the lineup, Coco Montes, finished his at bat.
Head coach Mark Kinston said Zech filled in perfectly in Merrell’s absence.
“He did a good job of doing exactly, probably, what Kevin would have done,” Kingston said. “He got on base and was able to steal bases and score for us and set the tone.”
After the Bulls added on one more run, FAMU countered when right fielder Garrett Wilkinson lifted a fly ball over the fence in the 5th to bring the Rattlers within one run.
But two innings later, USF would break the game wide open after FAMU went to their bullpen to replace starting pitcher JoJo Durden ( 6.0 IP, 5H, 2ER, 8K). The Rattler relief pitching struggled mightily to get outs.
After walking two men and giving up a hit; designated hitter Luke Borders singled to left field, bringing in two, giving the Bulls a three run lead. USF would add six more runs on three total hits in the frame.
“At the end of the day, they started helping us with some walks, wild pitches and passed balls,” Kingston said. “We were able to score the big runs there in that inning and that was the difference.”
One player who stood out tonight was freshman second baseman Nick Cerelli, who was making his first start at the collegiate level. Cerelli went 2-for-3 with a run scored and 2 RBI’S that pushed the game out of reach for FAMU.
“I thought he looked very comfortable,” Kingston said. “He swung the bat really well, he played really good defense and he did everything you could have asked.”
Cerelli said his nerves went away early in the game and he settled in nicely after.
“Your first college start you know, it’s always a little shaky,” Cerelli said. “But after the first two innings you start to calm down and settle in.”
Cerelli coming up big when a player like Merrell is sidelined, shows the depth of the roster this year.
“It’s good to know that you’ve got guys in the dugout that can play and fill in for the bigger guys” Cerelli said. “That’s always nice to have.”
The patience of the Bulls to force FAMU to make good pitches showed Kingston his team can win any way it needs to.
“We want to be good in all areas and they helped us some in that inning,” Kingston said. “But good teams take advantage of that.”
USF will send LHP Shane McClanahan to the mound to try and get the series win tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m., before heading into conference play next weekend.