The baseball team built some momentum heading into the Big East Conference Tournament, capturing a 5-2 victory over No. 23 St. John’s in the series finale. Addison Maruzsak hit a solo home run – his second of the series – to give USF a 2-0 advantage in the third inning. Maruszak, the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year, started the game in left field instead of third base for senior day.
Freshman Shawn Sanford – the team leader with 10 saves – proved to be one of the Bulls’ most effective starters against the Red Storm, striking out four and allowing only two runs in seven innings pitched. USF’s victory clinched the tournament’s fifth seed. The Bulls (32-24, 12-13) play Pittsburgh in opening-round action Tuesday.
“We feel we can compete with anyone in the conference,” coach Lelo Prado said. “If our starters give us a great effort in the first two games (we can win) – (Danny) Otero has to be the guy who steps up. If he does, then we’ve got a shot.”
Consistent pitching has been an issue for the Bulls all season, as St. John’s (39-24, 20-7) won the first two games of the series by tallying 19 runs.
Otero, Tuesday’s scheduled starter, surrendered 11 hits and eight runs in five innings pitched in Thursday’s 12-8 loss, which dropped his record to 8-7 on the year.
For the year, Otero led the Bulls with 111 2/3 innings and 82 strikeouts. His 3.55 ERA has the Bulls confident heading into their second straight Big East Tournament.
“Our starting pitching has been great this year,” left fielder Ty Taborelli said. “We can shut people out, and if we’re able to get some runs across, I think we have a good chance of winning.”
For the second consecutive season, Maruszak closed out the season strong with four hits, three RBI and two runs scored against St. John’s.
“He’s played better than I thought, and he’s just done a really great job,” Prado said. “Hopefully, he can stay on for the tournament.”
“Addison is playing really well,” Taborelli said. “He’s stepping up big for us just like he did last year, and he’ll probably have a great tournament.”
In USF’s first season in the Big East, the Bulls entered the tournament as the eighth seed and fell to No. 1 Notre Dame 3-1 in the opener and then 6-4 to St. John’s in the double-elimination tournament.
“I think the biggest difference between this year and last year is our team chemistry,” second baseman Nick Cardieri said. “Beating (ranked opponents) gives you a lot of confidence, especially heading into something like the Big East Tournament.”
Prado, in his first year at USF after spending 11 years with Louisville, feels the Bulls will have a different outcome from their early exit during last year’s tournament.
“If we have a couple of good games and we win – we have a shot at the regional tournament,” Prado said. “I have to believe the feeling is good. We had a good attitude and hopefully we can take care of business in the conference tournament.”