Rob Bridenstine

USF picks up important first tourney win as bats come alive

It was business as usual when the Bulls came back to beat Tulane 7-6 in the late innings of their first game of the AAC tournament in Clearwater.

After dropping two of their last three games of the regular season to UCF, the Bulls found themselves entering the AAC tournament as the fourth seed. The season finale loss to UCF pitted the Bulls against the Tulane Green Wave, a team that took two of three from USF during the conference opening series in New Orleans.

Senior righty, Phoenix Sanders, took the mound for USF in the opening game of the tournament. Sanders faced the potent Tulane offense in the first game of the regular season series and was tagged for three runs on four hits in 6.1 innings pitched.

Sanders pitched four complete innings before being pulled for precautionary reasons after taking a comebacker off the fingers. The senior pitched three scoreless innings before running into trouble in the fourth, giving up three runs, two of which came off a two-run Hunter Hope blast to left field that left Spectrum Field.

“It was a little combination of pitch count, but also he did get nicked on the finger there,” said USF head coach, Mark Kingston. “It was combination with let’s not take any chances with postseason and the following weeks as well.”

The Bulls responded quickly in the fourth, tying the game up at three runs a piece with a Chris Chatfield homerun to dead center field, with some help from a steady wind.

“He got the barrel to where that where that ball was cutting, and so it went a long way, no doubt about it,” said Kingston. “That kind of gave us confidence that we could get to this guy.”

Senior reliever Mark Savarese came into the game in the fifth in relief of Sanders, but surrendered a three-run shot to Tulane’s Jarrett DeHart, doubling USF’s own offensive efforts from the previous inning.

Duke Stunkel Jr. made the play of the game in the sixth after Hunter Hope made another bid for an extra base hit to the deepest part of center field, leaping into the wall and coming down with the out.

“I hope it got everyone going,” said Stunkel about his web gem. “We came out, we were a little slow in the beginning. The leaders came out and we stayed together as a team, as we have all year, and we came out and got the W, that’s all that matters…I hit the wall pretty good, but I’m fine.”

Sophomore David Villar tacked on two more runs over the next two innings, hitting a solo homer in the sixth to left field and driving in Kevin Merrell from second with a single to center.

The Green Wave relieved starter Corey Merrill in the seventh after throwing 128 pitches with Chase Solesky. Solesky was tabbed with the loss after giving up the lead in the eighth after Stunkel picked up his first hit of the game with double down the left field line, driving in Merrell for the game-tying run. Three batters later, Joe Genord reached first on an error by the Tulane third baseman, bringing Stunkel home for the game winning run.

Stunkel wasn’t done flashing his glove in the ninth after Garrett Zech came into the game to man center and shifting Stunkel to right field. The junior outfielder made a charging, diving catch in right to pick up the second out of the ninth.

Andrew Perez came into the game to relive Savarese with two scoreless innings, striking out the side in the eighth. Joe Cavallaro picked up the save, closing the door on the Green Wave in the ninth.

The Bulls will be playing the ECU Pirates in the next round of the tournament on Thursday night at 7:00 P.M. The Pirates came into the tournament as the lowly eight seed, but knocked the top seeded UCF team around for a 14-3 win. Earlier in the month USF swept the Pirates in Tampa, outscoring ECU 19-13.

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