Borders gains national attention amid tourney

 

Levi Borders got the scoring started for the Bulls when he drove in the first run and provided highlight-worthy defense behind the plate in USF’s win over Memphis.  ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Just one game into the AAC tournament at Bright House Field in Clearwater, USF catcher Levi Borders has already gained national attention. 

The junior, who was selected to the AAC All-Conference First Team for the second consecutive year, sparked the Bulls at the plate — and more significantly, he dazzled behind it.

The latter landed him the No. 2 spot on the SportsCenter Top 10.

With no outs in the fourth inning of USF’s 10-6 victory Tuesday, Memphis right fielder Jake Little fouled off the first pitch. 

Borders popped up, threw back his mask and hustled about five steps before making the diving catch in USF’s on-deck circle.

He was also pivotal with two outs in the first inning when he drove in the first run and later scored the second to give USF a 2-0 advantage over fifth-seeded Memphis (35-20). 

USF would go on to score six of its next eight runs with two outs, beginning with a Luke Maglich three-run homer in the second.

“That home run that (Maglich) hit, I thought was huge,” assistant coach Mike Current said. “We scored two runs in the first, and then we gave it back to (the Tigers). They had a little bit of the momentum there. For him to hit that home run and put us back up three, I thought that was one of the pivotal points in the entire game.”

Maglich went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs.

Jimmy Herget (9-3) earned the win despite allowing six runs (five earned) over six innings. The junior struck out eight and walked one. 

“Jimmy has really carried us all year,” Current said. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve won 1-0 or 2-1 when he’s been on the mound. Today, he didn’t have his best stuff, but he went out and competed, and the offense really picked him up.”

Herget earned first-team honors for the second consecutive year, which makes him and Borders the only first-team battery in the conference. 

Junior Ryan Valdes will take the mound for the fourth-seeded Bulls (33-22-1) when they face top-seeded Houston (40-17) at Bright House Field in Clearwater today at 3 p.m.

“Our goal is to make a regional,” Maglich said. “We keep up-to-date with what’s going on, but coach tells us to play pitch-by-pitch and everything else will take care of itself.”

Andrew Lantrip (7-3, 2.40 ERA), who earned second-team all-conference honors, will pitch for the Cougars. Houston led the AAC with seven players chosen to the all-conference first or second team. 

This season, the Bulls are 1-2 against the defending champion Cougars, who beat the eighth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats, 8-4, on Tuesday. 

In conference play, Houston has a conference-leading 2.60 ERA, compared to USF’s 3.71. 

Four Cougars are batting at least .300 and will go against the three Bulls boasting batting averages over .300: junior Josh Vidales (.310). Kevin Merrell (.353), Maglich (.309) and Borders (.303)

USF and Houston will participate in the winner’s bracket. The team that advances will play Saturday at 10 a.m, while the loser will face Memphis on Friday at 11 a.m. in this year’s double-elimination tournament. 

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