USF clinches final home series over UCF

ORACLE PHOTO ADAM MATHIEU

Buddy Putnam lunged off first base and pumped his fist in the air. Surely, the adrenaline could be felt by the 1,311 spectators at the USF Baseball Stadium after he completed Saturday’s bases-loaded, game-ending double play. 

Putnam’s reaction only hints to how much more sweet than bitter Senior Day was for the Bulls.

Six seniors, including Putnam, played their final game on campus Saturday, and their farewell was sweetened after clinching the series over rival UCF.

“To explain a rivalry, it’s that extra hump at the end of the year,” senior pitcher Casey Mulholland said. “The season matters a lot and so does the conference, but beating these guys gives us an extra edge going into the postseason.”

With the 5-4 victory, the Bulls (32-22-1, 13-11) are seeded fourth heading into the AAC tournament. The Knights (31-25, 10-14) are seeded seventh of eight teams.

Not only did the Bulls beat their rivals, but they beat them after an embarrassing Game 1 loss. 

Thursday was just one of those days for the Bulls. 

Roughly thirty minutes before game time, USF announced coach Mark Kingston had been suspended five games following a postgame ejection after a 4-3 loss at Tulane on May 10. As a result, Kingston was absent for the entire USF-UCF series, and he will miss the first two games of the AAC Championship. 

When Thursday’s game started, it didn’t take long for the Knights to take an unrelenting lead.

USF ace Jimmy Herget surrendered two two-out, two-run homers in the first inning. The Bulls had to sit with that for 107 minutes, while they waited out a lightning delay.

When the action resumed, the Knights went on to take a 12-4 lead. The Bulls scored five runs in the ninth, but their rally came up short.

Fortunately for the Bulls, the game was not indicative of the rest of the series.

The Bulls rebounded and won Game 2, 7-3, after a five-run seventh inning. 

The seniors shined in Saturday’s finale. Kyle Teaf drove in two and scored two, Zac Gilcrease also scored a pair of runs and Putnam completed the game-ending double play, which secured the win for Mulholland.

“You can’t say enough about those guys,” assistant coach Mike Current said. “They’ve been big for us all year at different times. Wouldn’t expect anything less, but it was an all-around great team effort.”

Redshirt sophomore Tommy Peterson, who was named to the Stopper of the Year Watch List, picked up his conference-leading 15th save.

“We really needed to get a good series win for a lot of reasons, and we did,” Current said. “So hopefully, this will carry us into next week, and we’ll have a good showing in Clearwater.”

USF faces fifth-seeded Memphis at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at Bright House Field in the first game of the AAC Championship.

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