ORLANDO – It may have been the closest away game to Red McEwen field the Bulls will play this season, but it still counts as a road win – the first of the season for USF.
The Bulls (15-19, 5-7) broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the eighth inning to beat state rival UCF (20-16, 3-3) by a score of 4-3 and snap an eight-game losing streak.
USF got off to an early lead, scoring three runs in the first two innings, while junior Yuri Higgins only allowed one run and one hit in four innings pitched.
“This is the first time in – I can’t remember how long – that we scored in the first inning in a game,” senior Kris Howell said. “So just taking the pressure off of everybody’s hitting and having a 3-0 lead (helped).”
After the Golden Knights scored two runs in the sixth inning to tie the game, the Bulls appeared to be falling apart, but with junior Nick Manganaro coming out of the bullpen in the seventh inning, UCF wouldn’t cross home plate again.
“That was outstanding,” coach Eddie Cardieri said of Manganaro’s performance. “He was very aggressive; he went right at them. He got 0-2 on a lot of guys, and it was a great outing for Nick.”
After junior Ty Tabborelli opened the eighth inning with a walk and Addison Maruszak laid down a sacrifice bunt, Howell doubled to left field to give USF the go-ahead run.
“I was hoping they would leave (starter Kyle Sweat) in, but I was pretty sure they were going to pull him,” Howell said. “I kept fouling pitches back all game, and I got it out in front and put a pretty good swing on it.”
The Golden Knights threatened in the bottom of the ninth. With junior Chase Lirette attempting to earn the save, Chadd Hartman singled and eventually advanced to second base after Lirette threw a wild pitch. But Lirette forced the next batter into a ground out to end the game.
“There have been times when you get worried,” said Manganaro, who was credited with the win. “But I’m confident in our closer, and I think he can do the job every time he goes out there.”
The win was the first for the Bulls on the road since May 10, 2005, against Florida, and it was the first victory this season since March 26 against Seton Hall.
“The losing streak was bad, but we were in games,” Howell said. “In Cincinnati we were in games; (against) Notre Dame we were in games. I think overall, winning this game on the road is putting us on a bigger pedestal than (snapping) the losing streak.”
Although Cardieri felt that Higgins pitched well, he made the move to the bullpen because with this weekend’s series against Louisville starting Thursday instead of Friday, he didn’t want to leave his starter in too long.
“What I was real pleased with is our pitching,” Cardieri said. “We walked six guys, which is not good, but Nick Manganaro came in there and did a hell of a job setting up Chase. And Chase came in there and did a hell of a job closing the ballgame.”