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Bulls keep status quo by losing 2 of 3 to Pirates

The USF baseball team dropped two of three games against Conference USA opponent East Carolina during the weekend at Red McEwen Field, putting the Bulls (20-11) in the middle of the conference standings and giving them an even record in conference play at 5-5.

“It’s totally disappointing to lose two of three, especially at home,” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said. “We had a chance to gain some ground in the conference, but we lost and other (middle of the pack) teams lost, so we kind of just stayed the same.

“We need to start playing better and pull away from the middle.”

Sunday’s finale against ECU started the same way as the first two games, with lead-off hitter Mike Cunningham getting on base and scoring an early run in the first to give the Bulls the lead.

Cunningham, a senior, went 10-for-16 in the three-game series, scoring in the first inning of all three games.

But USF couldn’t hold on to the lead, surrendering a run in the second and third as ECU went on to win 5-2.

The Bulls didn’t get the quality starting pitching Sunday that junior Jon Uhl and senior David Austen provided in the first two games. Travis Rios allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings to suffer his first loss of the season.

Saturday’s game produced the only win for the Bulls in the series, as Austen allowed only one run in seven innings to help the Bulls to a 11-4 victory.

Austen remained perfect in home starts during his career (10-0) while picking up his seventh win of the season despite pitching with an illness.

“He was under the weather (Sunday),” Cardieri said. “But he sure was on top of his game.”

USF blew open a 3-1 game with six runs in the fifth, all coming with two outs and one on base.

Cunningham had four hits and Travis Brown added three to pace the Bulls’ 16-hit performance.

The Bulls played their longest game of the season in Friday’s opener with the Pirates, losing 5-4 in 15 innings.

It was the fourth extra-inning game of the season for USF, all of them losses.

ECU relievers Glenn Tucker and Greg Bunn held the Bulls to three hits in the final 8 2/3 innings after the Bulls jumped on starter Davey Penny in the first.

Penny entered the game with a 30-inning scoreless streak, but he was unable to build on that as USF tacked on two runs in the opening frame.

The Bulls led 4-1 in the seventh, but ECU scored three runs to tie the game against starter Uhl.

Uhl pitched a season-high 8 2/3 innings and tied his career-high with nine strikeouts in a no decision.

Right fielder Bryan Hierlmeier tied the conference record for strikeouts in a game with five en route to an 0-for-6 performance.

The Bulls face non-conference opponent Central Florida Tuesday, the second of three consecutive Tuesday games against the Golden Knights, and a game Cardieri said is an important one for the Bulls.

“Mid-week games are games that help you get NCAA at-large bids,” Cardieri said. “UCF and Stetson, those teams are just always on the bubble. We need to play well (Tuesday), and shift our focus back to league play during the weekend and play well.

“We have to start playing more consistently — hitting, pitching and everything. Any team is capable of beating any other team in this league, and we just have to start putting it together.”