The University of Houston came into this weekend tied for first place in the American Athletic Conference, and USF was close behind in a tie for second. This shapes up to be the most important series of the season for the Bulls and it did not get off to a good start Friday.
Phoenix Sanders hung the second pitch of the game to Cougars catcher Connor Wong and he wasted no time hitting a powerful shot to left center field. Sanders was not his typical self, giving up seven hits and six earned runs over 6.0 innings pitched.
Four of those six earned runs came via the long ball as Sanders allowed the Cougars to take him deep three times throughout the course of his night. Head coach Mark Kingston said Sanders left his pitches up in the zone all night.
“We left balls up in the zone,” said Kingston. “They did what big strong hitters, like they have, do. They hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Although USF had little to show on the scoreboard, they made solid contact for most the night. Many times, the Cougar defense was just in the right spot at the right time to make a play.
Kingston was encouraged by the hitting from his lineup, even without star short stop, Kevin Merrell, who injured his foot and will not play this series. Kingston is hopeful that if their approach stays the same throughout the course of the weekend, balls will start to find holes in the Houston defense.
“We hit the ball well tonight, we hit a lot of balls hard,” said Kingston. “We swung the bats well, we just have to do a better job of getting the ball off the ground.”
One player that hit the ball well was center fielder Garrett Zech. Zech popped his first career home run over the center field fence to bring the Bulls within two.
Right fielder Duke Stunkel Jr. followed Zech with a single, hustling to third on a two base error by the Houston center fielder. Montes drove in Stunkel Jr. with a double off the left field wall to make it a one run game.
In the Cougars next at bats, they blew the doors wide open totaling four runs, three of which were a result of two home runs. The Bulls never seemed confident at the plate after that inning, and were only able to bring one more run across on the night.
“That was the difference in the game,” Kingston said. “It was a tie game if you take out that one inning with the four runs, but we left the ball up and they hurt them.”
USF looks to avoid the series loss tomorrow evening at 6:30.
USF pitcher Peter Strzelecki will start tomorrow night instead of his usual Sunday afternoon spot in the rotation.