Despite losses, Bulls stay alive in Big East

The South Florida baseball team lost their third straight Big East Conference series, but Sunday’s 8-4 win over Louisville prevented USF from being swept – and helped the Bulls remain in the Big East tournament picture.

As the Bulls (15-18, 6-9) left the field, an audible sigh of relief from players and coaches could be heard.

Despite weekend struggles, USF is only a game and a half behind eighth place Rutgers (11-19, 4-7). The Bulls and Scarlet Knights will be facing each other next weekend in New Jersey, in a series neither team can afford to lose.

Most importantly for the Bulls, closer Shawn Sanford got his sixth save of the season Sunday. It was his first since a March 28 game in which he struck out Justin McClanahan with the score 8-4, runners on first and third and Chris Dominguez – Louisville’s most dangerous hitter – representing the tying run on-deck.

Sanford gave up a grand slam in the ninth inning of Friday’s game that allowed Louisville to come back and win 10-7 after being down 7-6 in the ninth.

“I have been struggling for the past two or three weeks. I was really hurting the team, but today I took a step in the right direction and that really helps,” Sanford said.

Each of Sanford’s teammates talked to him in the locker room after Friday’s loss and assured him that they wouldn’t want anybody else closing games out for USF.

Sanford also got more than 30 text messages of support from family and friends.

“(Sanford) needs to sit down and realize that we are all behind him and we trust him when he comes into the game,” USF second baseman Addison Maruszak said. “He may have lost a couple of games for us, but there is nobody we would rather have on the mound in the ninth inning. He can throw strikes.”

The Cardinals (19-13, 6-5) solidified themselves at sixth place in the Big East thanks to solid performances by third baseman Chris Dominguez – who had two home runs this weekend to bring his total to 11 for the season, which is the most in the Big East – and first baseman Phil Wunderlich, who went 6-for-12 in the series as second batter.

Saturday’s game, a 10-2 win for the Cardinals, made USF hit rock bottom and was one of Louisville’s best of the season. Louisville took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, extended it to 6-0 in the fifth and put the game away in the eighth with an 8-0 lead.

“This series put us in the right direction. There is a lot of baseball left to be played. We respect South Florida a lot­ – they have great coaches and great players, so getting two out of three here was big for us,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said.