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Tillet, Bulls slam and blank Hatters

During one of the USF baseball team’s Tuesday evening games, it watched as one of its many young pitchers brought a leftover egg from Easter Sunday.

A goose egg, that is.

Freshman Blake Tillet — making only the second start of his collegiate career and of the season — pitched five innings and struck out two batters, all the while surrendering no runs in the Bulls’ 6-0 win over Stetson (16-11, 5-4 A-SUN) at Red McEwen Field in front of announced crowd of 217. Tillet’s record now improves to 2-0 and his ERA to 4.80, as at one point in the game he retired 10 batters in a row.

“We got five great innings out of Tillet,” said Cardieri, who now needs only seven more wins to reach 700 for his career. “He looks like he could be starting on Tuesday from now on, or he could be moved to Saturdays. We have some options. But I have absolutely been impressed by his stuff so far.”

The Brandon native made his first start in the 7-2 loss to Kent State on March 22, and though he started off the season in the bullpen, Tillet has found immediate success as the starter of the mound.

“It’s a lot different than high school or anything like that,” Tillet said. “If you throw it over the plate, (batters) are going to hit it. I just have to keep getting ahead of batters and staying ahead of them.”

Senior right fielder Bryan Hierlmeier hit his seventh home run on a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth, bringing home left fielder Ty Taborelli, shortstop Jeremy Brand and first baseman Brandin Daniel. Hierlmeier, who is batting .272 with a .573 slugging percentage, was in a 2-for-14 slump from the weekend series with Memphis (7-13, 2-4 C-USA), but went 1-for-2 against the Hatters.

“It’s good to come out of (the slump) with a home run or a grand slam, no less,” Hierlmeier said. “I’ve had a little trouble seeing that ball during night games. I mean, I’m going right now to the locker room to have my eyes checked. But I’m just glad we got the win. I don’t care what I do as long as we win.”

Cardieri added about Hierlmeier’s struggles at the plate, “Coming out of that slump, it’s good, because I want and hope that he can carry it over this weekend (when) we go up to Louisville. It was a tough (past) weekend for him, hopefully he won’t look at it like a slump and come back out with some confidence now.”

The Bulls (18-13, 5-1 C-USA) started the scoring early in the first inning when they knocked out Stetson starter senior Cameron Abel after third baseman Jeff Baisley — batting .380 with 15 doubles and 39 RBI (all team highs) — extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a two-run double that scored Taborelli and Hierlmeier.

USF has struggled in Tuesday games, going 3-5 on the mid-week matchups, but was able to get a good outing from its starter and put on cruise control with the bullpen as Chase Lirette, Nick Manganaro and Yuri Higgins finished out the game, pitching four innings and gave up no runs or walks with three strikeouts.

But what really helped get the egg in the basket was the return of many starters to the lineup including Daniel, second baseman Nick Cardieri and designated hitter Matt McHargue, all back for the first time since the three-game sweep of Charlotte (15-9, 2-4 C-USA) on March 18-20.

The Bulls, however, let up one error — a bobble by Nick Cardieri in the first — but rebounded with glove work that was not only routine, but was notably the most exciting — not to mention timely — all season.

“Defense is a big part (of my winning),” Tillet said. “I only had two K’s on the night, so defense really did the rest. Those routine plays and everyone knowing what they’re doing helped along with that offense always on my side.”

His coach agrees with him.

“I think Brian Baisley (helped as well to the return of the starters),” Cardieri said. “A pitcher is going to have confidence when he can throw a breaking ball in the dirt that it will be blocked. We’re close to being at full speed and only a little nicked up. We want this to carry over to Louisville because — I’ve said it before — the conference is the vehicle to the NCAA tournament.”