Pitching picks up Bulls’ defense

Three errors contributed heavily to USF’s 10-3 loss to Cincinnati on Friday.

Starters David Austen and Travis Rios weren’t about to let that happen Saturday and Sunday. Austen threw eight shutout innings Saturday, and Rios fired a complete game, one-hitter Sunday as the Bulls salvaged a three-game series with the Bearcats (11-27, 5-12 in Conference USA).

“(Saturday), we had no errors and (Sunday), we just had the one,” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said. “And the pitching was excellent. I can’t tell you how good Travis was.”

The Bearcats’ only hit wasn’t a factor, but UC managed to push across a run in the third with two hit batters and an error. USF (26-14, 10-6 in C-USA) tied it in the fifth, but it was Travis Brown’s three-run homer in the sixth that propeled the Bulls to a 4-1 victory, capitalizing on Rios’ masterpiece.

“Without that, I don’t know what we would have done,” Cardieri said.

Rios threw 124 pitches, 80 for strikes, while going past the sixth inning for the first time this season. The junior transfer from Lake Sumter Community College improved to 6-1 with a 2.91 ERA.

Both of those numbers pale to Austen’s. Eight innings of five-hit, four-strikeout ball Saturday vs. Cincinnati dropped the senior’s ERA to 1.95 and upped his record to 9-1 as the Bulls rebounded with a 4-0 victory.

Even by winning two of three against the Bearcats, who are next to last in the conference, the Bulls failed to gain ground on the conference leaders. All four teams in front of USF sport winning streaks of at least three games, and C-USA leader Southern Miss has won six straight and is three games up on the Bulls.

Three of the Bulls’ four remaining conference series are with league front runners Southern Miss, TCU and Houston.

“That’s disappointing that we won two of three and we don’t go anywhere,” Cardieri said. “We have some real tough series, but if we beat the teams that are ahead of us, we can gain some ground that way.”

Friday, three errors put USF in a hole, but the Bulls only trailed by one, 4-3, when Cardieri went to the mound for a conference with starter Jon Uhl in the eighth. Closer Joey Livingston was ready in the bullpen and Uhl was nearing his pitch count as the Bearcats put runners on first and second with one out.

“I’m thinking about bringing in Livingston to stop a rally, get a double-play ball,” Cardieri said. “(Catcher) Devin (Ivany) said, ‘He’s throwing good Coach,’ and Jon said, ‘I feel good.’ The two hitters prior hit little chinkers, a squibber down the third base line that just barely stayed fair and the other one up the middle that he hit off the ground. So I said, ‘OK, let’s stay with Jon.'”

That proved to be a mistake, as Jake Smith hit Uhl’s next pitch over the right center field fence for a three-run homer as the Bulls unraveled in the eighth, allowing five runs to come across.

“I felt that I had good enough stuff to at least get out of the inning,” Uhl said. “But I was unfortunate enough that the guy hit a good pitch over the right field wall.”