Bulls still perfect

Leaning into a pitch is a painful way to get a base.

Teams have been doing it for years, and during USF’s 6-5 win against Jacksonville (4-5) at Red McEwen Field on Sunday, the Bulls did it three times – in a row.

“We practice that,” coach Lelo Prado said. “We practice that if the ball is inside (on the plate) or something that you’re going to lean in there a bit. We practice to get hit by the ball in those situations.”

With USF (6-0) down 5-2 in the eighth inning, Dolphins relief pitcher Garrett Dunlap hit three batters – third baseman Addison Maruszak, first baseman Brandin Daniel and centerfielder Joey Angelberger – to load the bases with no outs. The Bulls added two runs when designated hitter Charles Cleveland hit the ball to third and Maruszak scored on an RBI fielder’s choice, then outfielder Mike Consolmagno batted in a run on a slow-rolling ground out.

Dunlap was pulled after those three hit batsmen. Reliever Adam Rapoza, who was credited with the loss Sunday, then intentionally walked leadoff hitter Walter Diaz.

Then second baseman Dexter Butler, on a full count, hit an RBI single up the middle to score two and take the 6-5 lead.

Butler was visibly celebratory following his go-ahead single.

“That was definitely one of my bigger hits that I’ve ever had,” said Butler, who went 2-for-5 with two RBI on Sunday. “Coach Prado is always telling us it’s fine to show emotion out there (on the field). I tell you, I was pumped.”

Closer Yuri Higgins came in for the ninth inning and recorded his second save of the season, and reliever Ryan Lau picked up his first win of the season despite only facing one batter.

But Prado knows Butler can step up when asked.

“Butler’s had some big hits for us this year,” Prado said. “He’s come through for us a bunch of times, and hopefully he’ll continue to do that this season. We’ve got plenty of guys like Butler (who) I expect to come through in the clutch.”

Leftfielder Ty Taborelli said the three hit batters helped. But practicing it, as Prado said, helped more.

“We’ve been working on that all fall,” said Taborelli, who went 2-for-5 and drove in a run. “Staying in there and not bailing out on those pitches – we can just pride ourselves on that and getting guys on base in those types of situations.”

The Bulls, still undefeated under Prado, are off to their best start since 1974 and 1982, when USF started those respective seasons 9-0 and 8-0. In 1982, the Bulls were Sun Belt Champions and made the NCAA Tournament. However, in 1974, USF hit a 3-13 skid and missed the postseason.

Prado, happy with the start, thinks he and USF have “something special here.”

“No question (this start will help us),” Prado said. “All the hard work we’ve been putting in since the fall is now paying off, and it allows us to continue to bust their tails every day.”