Rob Bridenstine

USF Bulls walk off on rival Knights

The USF Bulls began the baseball edition of the War on I-4 against the Central Florida Knights with an 11-inning win on Friday.

Patient approaches at the plate, timely hitting and solid pitching performances were able to give the Bulls a 5-4 walk off victory.

The Bulls battled the Knights and never had more than a two run lead all evening.  Pitchers Phoenix Sanders for USF and Robby Howell for Central Florida dominated early on in the ballgame. 

In the fourth inning the normally accurate Howell started missing his spots on a regular basis, resulting in walks which were cashed in on a David Villar double to right field, scoring DH Luke Borders.

Howell, had only walked 10 batters all year before tonight. USF’s ability to recognize the strike zone forced him to add six more to his total. These walks resulted in two more runs for the Bulls.

Head coach Mark Kingston was encouraged by the resiliency and patience of his team.

“That’s a team that doesn’t walk many batters,” Kingston said. “ I thought we had a good professional approach tonight, not as many hits as we’d want, but we found a way in the end.”

The Knights clawed their way back into the game two innings later when Sanders gave up a single and a walk to put two on and no outs.  Sanders was able to strike out one Central Florida hitter, but he was unable to keep them off the scoreboard. Sanders exited the game after that inning with only a one run lead.

In the 9th, after adding an insurance run on a Borders solo home run, closer Andrew Perez came on to preserve the win. Perez struggled in the 9th, blowing his first save of the season allowing the Knights to tie the game at 4.

But Perez was able to show the same resiliency as the USF hitters, coming back out in the 10th and shutting Central Florida down.

“We have what I think is the best closer in the country,” Kingston said. “ He gave up two runs, very atypical for him, but the guys had his back.”

The Bulls and Knights both went quietly in the 10th, and senior RHP Mark Savarese came on in relief of Perez in the 11th.  After giving up a one out double, Savarese shut down the Central Florida lineup to leave him stranded.

In the home half of the frame, right fielder Cam Montgomery started it off with a single to right field.  Center fielder Garrett Zech moved him over with a sacrifice bunt. After an intentional walk to Kevin Merrell and a fly out by Coco Montes, Borders stepped to the plate.

Borders ripped a single to center field and brought home Montgomery and gave the Bulls a 5-4 victory. Borders said he didn’t think any differently than normal up at the plate

“Same thing as a normal situation,” Borders said. “Don’t really think much, just see the ball and hit the ball.”

Kingston said his veteran leadership, as the only senior in the starting lineup is important to his clubs success.

“It’s very important since were such a young team,” Kingston said. “The veterans that get to play need to come through for you, and he definitely did that tonight.”

Borders thinks his late night heroics will spiral the momentum into the rest of the series with Central Florida.

“I’m sure it will give us momentum,” Borders said. “ Can’t really explain it, that’s how the game of baseball is.”

The Bulls are back at it against the Knights Saturday at 6:30 p.m., looking to gain a winning record in conference play. 

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