USF center fielder Garrett Zech gave chase to the baseball as it cut through the air toward the right-center-field wall, but he could only stop and watch as the ball cleared the fence and the bases, giving the University of North Florida a 6-5 lead it wouldn’t relinquish Tuesday night at the USF Baseball Stadium.
The grand slam, which came after the Ospreys had already scored twice in the inning, put UNF ahead after it trailed 5-0 entering that game-changing fifth inning and it would be enough to hold off the Bulls, 7-5.
“Well, we helped them out that inning,” USF coach Mark Kingston said. “There was a play in the infield I thought we should have made and turned into an out, we walked one and then we gave up the big grand slam obviously.
“I look at our team right now and we’re close, we just have to get over the hump. The difference between our young team and these veteran teams we’re losing to right now in close games, is that they get that big hit. Their juniors and seniors get that one big hit and our freshmen just aren’t getting that done yet.”
USF (16-17, 2-4) took an early lead with the help of a two-homer fourth inning. The Bulls took a 1-0 lead in the first when Zech, the leadoff hitter, scored on a single by shortstop Coco Montes.
The Bulls added to their lead when right fielder Duke Stunkel Jr. led off the fourth with a homer that bounced off the batting cages past right field and first baseman Joe Genord later piled on with a three-run shot over the left-field wall.
“We’re getting better offensively, we’re getting better,” Kingston said. “That’s two really good games in a row offensively. Unfortunately against North Florida in two games this year, if you look at the 18 innings we pitched against them, 16 of them were outstanding. We had two tough innings out of 18, that’s why baseball can be a cruel game.”
The Bulls have lost six of their past seven games, but Kingston said USF isn’t far off from getting back on track.
“We’re not getting beat 10-2, we’re getting beat by one run,” Kingston said. “That’s the eighth or ninth game this year we’ve lost by one or two runs. We’re a team that just needs to work on a couple things here and there and let these losses turn into wins. It’s a process of teaching these kids how to play winning baseball.”
Senior right fielder Luke Maglich missed his sixth consecutive game with a wrist injury after getting hit by a pitch in a loss at Cincinnati on April 3. His injury status remains day-to-day for the time being.
USF will look to break out of its slump when it travels to play a three-game series with UCF beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m.