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Baseball picks up close win

After being down 3-0 early in the game, the Bulls score four runs in the secondinning to defeat Florida A&M.

Bulls pitcher Yuri Higgins gave up seven hits in seven inningsof work, with seven strikeouts and three earned runs.ORACLE PHOTO/SEAN REED

When the Bulls broke for their positions at the start of the game, starting pitcher Yuri Higgins slowly – poised and calm – walked to the mound to take his spot.USF (19-8) faced a more than struggling Florida A&M team and pulled off the 9-6 win Tuesday at Red McEwen Field, but not before looking like a team about to take the now 1-26 Rattlers lightly.

Higgins admitted he did.

“I definitely feel like I took them lightly,” said Higgins, who also mentioned he was considering transferring to FAMU before the start of this season. “I know most of the guys on the team.

“I was prepared mentally, and then I came on two days rest, but that’s no excuse. I just underestimated them.”

Higgins (4-1) – who pitched 5 2/3 innings at Notre Dame on Saturday, where he had 10 strikeouts – gave up two runs in the second inning Tuesday and picked up an unearned run on a error by first baseman Brandin Daniel. Down 3-0, the Bulls scored four in the bottom of the second, including a two-RBI single by second baseman Dexter Butler.

Not only did Butler extend his hitting streak to 10 games, but the junior is now10-for-18 in the past five games with three RBI. Shortstop Walter Diaz, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI, also has a 10-game hitting streak.

“Thank God for Walter Diaz and Dexter Butler right now,” coach Lelo Prado said. “Butler has been clutch all season – he’s been consistent all year, and he’s been doing everything we ask of him and has gotten better every day.”

Butler, who earned Big East Player of the Week honors Monday, is batting a team-high .404, while Diaz, a transfer from Miami, is right behind him with .394.

Higgins, who is slated to pitch Sunday since junior starter Daniel Thomas has been scratched with an undisclosed injury, settled down after the second inning. He pitched another five innings and gave up three earned runs, the third coming off FAMU first baseman Anthony Mazzeo’s sacrifice fly in the seventh.

“After (the second), I really took them by the horns,” said Higgins, who had a group of about 30 kids he interacts with at a local recreation center in attendance. “That man right there (Prado) is really the one who criticizes me and makes me a better player and person. It’s all been for the better. He’ll come down on me, but it’ll motivate me.”

Prado, who has been quick to criticize the Bulls for not sweeping Big East foe Pittsburgh or for a non-conference loss to Quinnipiac, praised Higgins. But Prado, who claims he was not aware of the Rattlers’ record (their one win came against 18-9 Navy), was “not impressed” with the way USF played, especially after giving up three errors.

“They shouldn’t be worried about what other guys are doing,” Prado said. “They should just come out and play. You have to give (FAMU) respect because they had us on the ropes tonight.”Prado added that if USF loses games to teams such as FAMU or as it did against theQuinnipiac, its deep postseason might be lost.

“If we lose these (non-conference) games, they can really hurt us down the stretch,” Prado said. “We really took a hit back then losing to Quinnipiac, and we need more wins to make it to regionals.

“You have to tell them, tell them, tell them … and one of the problems is that none of these guys have been there before, so really, they don’t know what to expect (from regionals).”

Higgins, who goes into the stands during games to get the crowd pumped up, knows that as a senior, his job is probably even more vital to the team.

“I’m a senior, and it’s my last year on the team,” Higgins said. ” I have to help win, and I have to (get fans into the game). That’s what seniors do.”