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Clutch when the baseball team needs it

All season coach Eddie Cardieri has stressed the importance of hitting.

So, with USF riding a five-game winning streak, batters have stepped up in clutch situations, enabling the Bulls to win eight of their last nine games – four in dramatic fashion.

“Teams that when they have bases loaded or (runners on) second and third and one out, if they pop up and strike out, they’re going to have a good chance to lose the game,” Cardieri said. “But teams that step up and get that clutch hit are going to have a good (chance) to win the game.”

Three players have done that for the Bulls.

Senior Matt McHargue, who missed the beginning of the season because of a broken hand, has contributed since his return with a .429 batting average through 14 at-bats. McHargue, who has appeared in eight games and started three games, has played a key role in USF’s clutch hitting.

With the score tied 1-1, McHargue pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday against Seton Hall, and after going ahead in the count 3-0, the senior hit his 21st career home run.

“He’s a fifth-year senior. He provides leadership, and he was penciled into our five hole before the year started,” Cardieri said. “It was just very unfortunate that he got hurt, and we’re very glad to have him back.”

At the start of the season, clutch hitting wasn’t even a factor for sophomore Joey Angelberger, who couldn’t even come up with any hits. The right fielder started the season 0-for-15, and after six games he was just 2-for-21.

“At the beginning of the year I wasn’t seeing the ball as well as I could,” said Angelberger, who has raised his batting average to .284. “Now I’m seeing the ball well, and I’m doing everything mechanically sound. It’s all pretty much just fundamentals.”

Then, in the 12-inning thriller with Vermont on March 21, the Catamounts took a one-run lead in the top of the 12th inning and Angelberger hit a walk-off home run with two outs and a runner on second base.

Angelberger also came through for the Bulls in the team’s 11-9 victory against Seton Hall on Sunday. Angelberger finished 3-for-5 and had five RBI, including a three-RBI triple in the fourth inning.

“(In clutch situations) you can’t really think about trying to be a hero,” Angelberger said. “You just have to try to do what you’re taught, do what you do every day in batting practice.”

Cardieri couldn’t be happier with Angelberger’s recent success.

“It’s good to see Joey get going because we know he’s a good hitter,” Cardieri said. “We knew he just got off to a slow start. It’s like I told the guys way back when we were struggling, ‘You’ll get going.’ I knew they would get going.”

And the third player, freshman Addison Maruszak, who is leading the Bulls with a .359 batting average and is second on the team with 16 RBI, also found himself to be clutch.

“I knew he was going to be a good player,” Angelberger said. “I played in the same county with him, and I knew who he was. But for him to come into college his first year and do what he’s doing now is unbelievable.”

Maruszak helped USF win its first-ever Big East game with a walk-off double against Connecticut on March 17. One of Maruszak’s most impressive performances came against the Pirates on Sunday when he hit two doubles in consecutive innings to earn four RBI.

“You can’t even explain it,” Maruszak said about his clutch performances. “For the past 12 (or) 15 games, I’ve been swinging at these good pitches. You have to swing at the strikes and try not to chase after the balls, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Cardieri feels that in order for the Bulls to keep winning and to make it far into the postseason, the clutch hitting must continue.

“It’s the only ingredient that we didn’t have early in the season,” Cardieri said. “And you can tell what a difference it makes now that we’re getting that.”