Thank God for Walter Diaz.That’s what coach Lelo Prado has been saying, verbatim, about his junior shortstop all season, and continued singing Diaz’s praises following USF’s 10-5 win against UCF (18-20) at Red McEwen Field on Tuesday in front 606 fans.
“I’ve said it from Day 1: He’s the guy that makes us go (offensively),” Prado said. “You notice that every time he plays well, when (he) does things right, our team is better. You know, the guy’s been through regionals, he’s been through playing in a good conference and playing for a good program. He just knows how to win.”
Diaz, who transferred from Miami this off-season, leads USF (27-12) in most statistical categories including batting average (.395), runs (46), hits (64), stolen bases (13), slugging percentage (.494), on-base percentage (.495) and doubles (11). He is also in the midst of a 21-game hitting streak and went 2-for-3 on Tuesday with two RBI, three runs scored and two walks.
The Knights took a 3-0 lead in the first inning off reliever James Rowe, who made a rare appearance as starter. Rowe failed to record an out and was quickly replaced by senior Yuri Higgins, who picked up the win (5-3) and pitched seven innings, giving up just one run.
One of Diaz’s hits included a two-RBI single in the second that gave USF the lead it wouldn’t relinquish.Third baseman Addison Maruszak knows how valuable Diaz is to the team.
“It’s not only on the field (that he contributes),” said Maruszak, who went 1-for-4 on Tuesday with two RBI. “He helps us a lot when he’s in the dugout in between innings. We need more people on the team like that who just get into the game as much as he does.
“He’s a great leader. … He doesn’t give hitting tips, but he’ll tell us what to look for on a pitcher because he’s either seen them (batting first) and he’ll be able to tell us what (pitch) is coming.”
Diaz, who claims he doesn’t think of the hitting streak at all, knew that once he got to USF, he’d have to step up on a team lacking veteran leadership.
“I just want to be a leader for this team,” Diaz said. “Hopefully what I bring to practice and the games carries over to everyone else. I just want to do what it takes to win.
“I feel like, in order for us to be successful, that I need to be a leader along with a few other guys on the team.”Prado knows that Diaz, because of his experience, is heavily relied on in the batting order.
“No doubt (he brings leadership),” Prado said. “He makes guys go. He makes (second baseman) Dexter (Butler) go. Everyone goes behind him (in the lineup) because he can get on base, and he’s had a hell of a year.”
Diaz says he just wants to help the team and isn’t worried about padding his stats. But Diaz knows he’s just one cog in USF’s machine.
“Everyone on this team is important,” Diaz said. “It’s not just about me or one guy. It’s a big-time team sport and they can’t just rely on me. I have to help out others so they do well, too.”
Prado feels this season would be nearly lost without Diaz.
“We wouldn’t be 27-12 or where we’re at (if we didn’t have Diaz),” said Prado, whose team is ranked 46th in RPI, tops in the Big East. “There’s no way we’d be where we’re at without him. Just the way he goes about business and leadership, there’s just no way any of this would’ve happened.”