No. 2 USF fought off elimination in the AAC Tournament twice Thursday, defeating No. 7 Wichita State 7-2 and No. 3 UConn 13-0 at Robin Roberts Field, a practice field located adjacent to Spectrum Field, in Clearwater.
In addition to their bats, the Bulls were led by complete-game pitching performances in both wins.
Sophomore Collin Sullivan allowed one earned run while striking out seven en route to his third victory of the year in the morning game against Wichita State, a team that defeated USF less than 24 hours prior.
“I really think it was being able to throw off-speed pitches for a strike,” Sullivan said. “Getting ahead of them – especially their middle-of-the-order guys – they’re free swingers, so if I got ahead, I knew I could strike them out on three or four pitches.”
Junior Alec Wisely pitched in the afternoon game against UConn, striking out nine and walking zero over seven innings in a game that was shortened due to the AAC’s 10-run rule.
“Those two were incredible,” coach Billy Mohl said of his starting pitchers. “Two complete games, when our backs are against the wall, to save our bullpen? I’m really, really proud of those two guys.”
After being held to just two runs in a loss in their first game of the tournaemnt, the Bulls scored 20 runs in 16 innings Thursday to stay alive in the double-elimination tournament. Joe Genord, Carson Ragsdale and Chris Chatfield each homered in the game against UConn, while leadoff hitter Coco Montes went a combined 5-for-10 on the day with three RBIs.
“Coco’s having a breakout year,” Mohl said. “He’s doing what a junior should do. He’s playing with confidence, he’s swinging the bat really well … he’s kind of our spark plug.”
To even reach Thursday, the Bulls faced an elimination game Wednesday afternoon. USF lost the first game it played in the tournament Wednesday morning at Spectrum Field against Wichita State 4-2 and had to come right back and play in an elimination game against Cincinnati at Robin Roberts Field later that afternoon.
The Bulls defeated the Bearcats 9-4 behind pitcher Peter Strzelecki. The senior allowed three runs on six hits over 6.2 innings, while striking out seven. Genord went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs, which allowed USF to live to see another day.
The three wins in the AAC Tournament are the most that USF has posted since the conference’s inception in 2014. The Bulls previously posted one win in each of the previous AAC tournaments. The last time USF won multiple games in a conference tournament came in 2012 as a member of the Big East, where the Bulls lost in the championship game to St. John’s.
“We got the monkey off our back,” Mohl said. “We’ve got a bunch of fighters in that dugout. I love this team.”
The reason for USF’s unusual schedule in the tournament was due to the threat of tropical weather in the Tampa area over the weekend. With bad weather on the horizon, the AAC moved almost every game earlier than its originally scheduled time. The Bulls game against Wichita State on Thursday morning started at 9 o'clock.
“Obviously, it’s not ideal,” Mohl said. “But, you know what? It’s a baseball game, and this is what we do, this is what we love. And any day we get to play is a good day.”
Next up for USF is another date with UConn, which the Bulls routed on Thursday. The Bulls and Huskies will play an elimination game at Spectrum Field on Friday at 10 a.m. The winner will play either No. 1 Houston or No. 4 East Carolina, who will play an elimination game at Robin Roberts Field on Friday morning.
Baron Stuart is expected to start against the Huskies. The freshman pitcher started nine midweek games for USF during the regular season.
“(Stuart’s) a freshman, so we’ll see what he does when the lights come on,” Mohl said. “But he’s well-rested and hasn’t thrown in a while, so he should give us a good outing, and we’ve got a full bullpen ready to go.”