Baseball game goes to the wire

USF 7, Bethune-Cookman 6

The South Florida baseball team (18-18, 6-9) almost let another big lead slip away Wednesday night as a four-run lead dwindled to one in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Sophomore pitcher Shawn Sanford, however, was able to hold off a Bethune-Cookman surge to guide the Bulls to a 7-6 victory over the Wildcats.

“(The team wasn’t) being aggressive at all. It was like we were just looking around, waiting for something bad to happen,” coach Lelo Prado said. “We were waiting for the other shoe to fall, and it shouldn’t be like that, we have to be aggressive to close things out.”

The Wildcats (22-14, 9-0) were trailing 7-3 when the inning began and started off with a single by catcher Drew Clark.

Three batters later, outfielder Jose Ortiz singled off of a 1-1 pitch by setup man David Torcise and drove in two runs to make the score 7-5.

When Sanford entered the game, he had runners at first and third with no outs.

Sanford started out well, striking out the first batter he faced, but then went on to walk the next two batters – the second of whom walked in a run.

With the Bulls holding a 7-6 lead, Wildcats shortstop Jose Lozada represented the winning run at second base as Sanford prepared to face infielder Emmanuel Castro with the bases loaded and two outs.

“I wanted to get an easy ground ball, so I threw two cutters in the dirt that (Castro) chased. (With the count at no balls and two strikes) he chased another pitch and (USF second baseman) Johnny (Koscso) made a great play to get the last out,” Sanford said.

Sanford, who got his eighth save of the season, acknowledged the need for the USF bullpen to avoid coming so close to giving up leads late in the game. He also added that holding on to the wins against Stetson and Bethune-Cookman gave the bullpen a new found confidence.

“These last two days restored the confidence that our teammates and coaches have in the bullpen. Everyone on the team was very supportive when we struggled and now it’s time for us to step up,” Sanford said.

Bethune Cookman took an early 2-0 lead in the third inning, but two runs in the fifth and three in the seventh gave USF a 6-3 lead.

Outfielder Chris Rey had three of the Bulls’ nine total hits, going 3-for-5 for the second consecutive game.

He drove in two runs and fell a home run short of hitting for the cycle.

USF freshman pitcher Teddy Kaufman (1-1), who Prado said before the game “needs to step up as a mid-week starter,” pitched six solid innings and allowed three earned runs on the way to his first victory of the year.

Bethune-Cookman starting pitcher Felix Machado threw five innings and allowed two earned runs.

USF got its third straight win and is back to .500 for the first time since they were 13-13.

With 20 games left on the season – nine of which are in the Big East – the Bulls will look to get back to .500 in the conference and make one final push for a Big East Tournament bid.