After losing to the Cougars in the first game of the weekend series, USF rallied to take game two and put themselves in a position to jump back on top of the American Conference.
Regular Sunday starter, Peter Strzelecki, took the mound for USF a day early so that he could attend the funeral of his father, who passed away earlier this week, on Sunday. Strzelecki pitched threw 63 pitches in 1.2 innings of work, giving up four runs (only two of which were earned) on three hits, while walking three batters and striking out one.
As USF Head Coach Mark Kingston met Strzelecki at the mound to bring in Ryan Valdes for relief, the entire Bulls roster met Strzelecki at the first base line to walk with him to the dugout. Roughly 1,000 people in attendance gave Strzelecki a standing ovation as he was rallied around by his teammates in front of the dugout.
“The story tonight is Peter Strzelecki, no doubt about it,” said Kingston after the game. “I told him and I told the team, ‘You have to have such strength of character to be here tonight; to on that mound.’ I couldn’t have done it…two of his teammates took him back home to be with his family and then he got in contact with us and said, ‘I would like to pitch on Saturday night, because the celebration of life is on Sunday.’ So when a guy tell you that he wants to do that, under those circumstances, you say absolutely.”
The Bulls didn’t stay down for long though, as they tied the game up to four runs a piece in the third inning. Senior designated hitter Luke Borders cut the deficit in half with a single to left field that scored both Duke Stunkel and Garrett Zech. First baseman Joe Genord evened the score with a two run shot to left-center field, bringing in Borders.
The Bulls took command of the game in the bottom of the fourth after Coco Montes reached second base on an errant throw from Houston shortstop Jake Scheiner that went out of play into the home dugout. Chris Chatfield didn’t wait long to take advantage of the Houston error, singling in the very next at bat to drive in Montes and give the Bulls a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
In his relief of Strzelecki, Valdes threw 72 pitches in 4.1 innings, holding the Houston bats to just one hit and a walk while also striking out six and no runs.
“We said that this game was for the Strzelecki family,” said Valdes. “We love that guy, we love all our guys, tragedies happen in life and you either get strong or weaker, coach said, and it made us stronger. We were already a family, but this made us an even tighter family. I can’t even express the words how lucky I was to come in after that guy, and the team meeting him when he came out of the game, that just tells you how tight we are as a family.”
Joe Cavallaro finished the final three innings of the game by not not allowing a single base runner and striking out five of the nine batters he faced. Cavallaro was given another two insurance runs in the eighth after a Tyler Dietrich single to left drove in both Genord and David Villar.
This particular game saw the Bulls wearing a navy blue jersey with gold lettering in honor of the school’s partnership with the Moffitt Cancer Center. The jerseys symbolized the support for colon cancer research and were also adorned with a blue ribbon.
The win brought the Bulls conference record to 8-6, good enough for a three-way tie with UCF and Connecticut. Sunday’s game will be the series rubber match, and a win can tie the Bulls with the conference leading Cougars.