A little support does the job

A four-run sixth inning, coupled with another sterling outing from David Austen, secured USF a 6-2 win against Northwestern at Red McEwen Field Monday.

The two sides were locked in a pitchers’ duel through five innings as Austen and Northwestern’s Mark Ori each allowed only on hit. The Wildcats relieved Ori with Dan Pohlman in the fourth, and the Bulls got to him in the sixth.

Bryan Hierlmeier’s chopper just inside the line at third put him on second after the throw bounced wide of the first baseman. Myron Leslie singled through the right side to break the scoreless tie. Following Leslie’s RBI single, Jeff Baisley singled and Devin Ivany walked to load the bases. Allen Shirley’s sacrifice fly to center was deep enough to bring home Leslie, and Baisley and Ivany both moved up a base. Ronnie Handley followed them by ripping a single right past Pohlman’s ear to bring them home for a 4-0 game.

On the mound, Austen provided his usual performance, establishing his fastball early in the count with pinpoint accuracy.

“That was the key — getting ahead,” Austen said. “That makes pitching real easy. Once they started (having to swing early in the count), I started throwing breaking balls for first-pitch strikes. Then, I don’t think they knew what was coming.”

The Bulls’ ace surrendered four hits and no runs in six innings before Cardieri turned the game over to his bullpen.

“We’ve played two conference series so far, and he hasn’t pitched in either one of them because we got rained out both Sundays,” Cardieri said. “We want some flexibility to have Friday and/or Saturday, in case there’s weather problems. By getting him out at 80 pitches, he’s resilient enough to come back on three days rest Friday or certainly four days for Saturday. So now we have options.”

With Austen out of the game, things became interesting. Tim Mattison allowed two hits in the seventh, but escaped unscathed with an assist from Travis Brown in left field and a pair of strikeouts. Steve Palinkas didn’t fare as well in the eighth, giving up two runs and two hits. Jon Kio’s day was worse, lasting 1/3 of inning. The freshman walked two and gave up a single before Joey Livingston came on for the final two outs to record his seventh save.

Austen continued his stellar season by lowering his ERA to 2.29. The senior righthander efficiently mowed through the Wildcat lineup, throwing 82 pitches, 54 of them strikes. Austen struck out seven and walked one, improving his strikeout to walk ratio to nearly 6:1 this season.

“That’s the key to every pitcher’s success,” Austen said. “Limiting the walks and having control of all three of your pitches.”

The victory was Austen’s ninth in nine starts at Red McEwen Field and pushed his record to 6-0 on the season. His lone trouble spot was the fifth inning, when he gave up a leadoff single but erased that batter with a double play on the next pitch. The next two batters picked up singles, but Austen fanned leadoff hitter Eric Roeder for the second time in the game to end the threat.