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Meltdown to Mountaineers

Still seeking its first conference sweep of the season, the baseball team saw the opportunity vanish quickly Saturday.

West Virginia tallied 11 runs in the first two innings as the Bulls blew a sweep opportunity on the final day for the second consecutive series, falling 16-5.

First baseman Brandin Daniel hit two home runs during the three-game series with West Virginia. ORACLE PHOTO/REJU FRANCIS

“Two out of three is OK but we’re not going to take it. You have to get sweeps to win the (Big East) conference,” coach Lelo Prado said. “It’s disappointing, but you have to move forward – that’s all we can do at this point.”

The Bulls haven’t swept a conference series since defeating Seton Hall in three traight games at Red McEwen Field over a year ago.

Yuri Higgins surrendered seven runs, four walks and five hits in 1.2 innings pitched as the Mountaineers (18-10, 4-5) put the game out of reach with a nine-run second inning.

Saturday marked the worst loss of the season for USF (25-10, 8-4) since falling 18-7 to Central Michigan on March 4.

“You have to prevent big innings and you have to pitch there. And we didn’t pitch worth a flip,” Prado said. “You win or lose on the mound and we lost on the mound today.”

Davis Bilardello and Shawn Sanford relieved Higgins, but each pitcher surrendered four earned runs and a home run.

Left-hander Kenny Durst pitched his first complete game of the year for West Virginia, allowing five runs on 10 hits while striking out five.

Left-fielder Justin Jenkins extended his team-high 27-game hitting streak as he finished 3-for-5 with a home run to lead the Mountaineers’ offensive attack.

Four of the five runs USF scored came on home runs as first baseman Brandin Daniel launched a two-run homer, his second in three games. Third baseman Addison Maruszak and left fielder Ryan Soares each added solo home runs.

Shortstop Walter Diaz extended his hit streak to 17 games as he drove a single into right field in his final at bat of the game.

The Bulls recorded 10 hits in the game, but never seriously threatened West Virginia after the second inning. Throughout the game, USF seemed impatient at the plate and allowed Durst to dictate pace of the game.

“When we were down, (Durst) really came after us with the fastball and we were chasing them even though they weren’t strikes,” Maruszak said. “We might have been impatient at the plate – swinging at the first pitch – and that really hurt us.”The three Bulls pitchers threw 184 pitches while Durst threw only 120.

On Friday, junior right-hander Chris Delaney improved his record to 7-0 despite allowing eight runs in 7.2 innings as the Bulls held on for a 9-8 victory.

Sanford, a freshman, earned his ninth save of the season.

The Bulls recorded 12 hits as Diaz, Joey Angelberger and Braulio Pardo each drove in two runs.

Although the team failed to sweep West Virginia, Maruszak feels the team can improve in closing teams out later in the year.

“We just need to pull through … I don’t know what’s wrong with us right now but we just can’t seem to get that last game,” Maruszak said. “We struggled today as a team but I think we can use this as a learning experience and continue from there.”