No. 3 Notre Dame – 3, No. 6 USF – 9
As the Big East baseball tournament began in Clearwater on Tuesday, South Florida played a familiar foe and saw a familiar result.
The No. 6 seeded Bulls (30-25) played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (33-20-1) for the fourth time in six days. As in the first three games, USF won. Unlike the first three – which were each decided by one run – this game wasn’t even close.
USF scored six runs in the top of the second to jump out to a lead it did not relinquish, ultimately defeating Notre Dame 9-3.
The win was the sixth straight over the Fighting Irish dating back to 2007.
“I don’t know what it is,” USF coach Lelo Prado said. “We play hard against them.”
“It’s not easy to win four in a row against anybody, especially a team like Notre Dame,” USF senior first baseman Joey Angelberger said. “I think (last weekend’s series) was fresh in their minds, and it was fresh in our minds.”
The Bulls fell behind 2-0 in the first inning, but the game was blown open in the second. USF had seven consecutive players reach base, and both senior third baseman Charles Cleveland and Angelberger had two-RBI singles to give USF a 6-2 lead.
“Once they got up by two, we knew we could come back,” Angelberger said. “We knew we had done it on Saturday. In the second inning we came out and put up that six-spot, and I think that got in their heads a little bit. They started to lose a little confidence.”
The Bulls seemed to have an answer for everything Notre Dame threw at them. All nine batters had at least one hit, and four players -?including Angelberger and Cleveland – had two or more.
USF also had good results from its pitching staff. Freshman Derrick Stultz started for the Bulls, striking out four batters in four innings. He also had two walks and hit Notre Dame’s leadoff man Brett Lilley with the first pitch of the game.
Lilley has been hit by more pitches throughout his four-year career (109) than any other player in NCAA history.
“The sad part is that Lilley always gets hit with the ball, so right out of the gate I told (Stultz) to keep the ball away from him, and the first pitch he throws it in,” Prado said. “But he settled down and kept us in the ball game, and then we came alive in the second inning.”
The Bulls made the Fighting Irish pitchers work to get outs, and USF players routinely had at-bats of seven or more pitches. Notre Dame starter Eric Maust threw 103 pitches in just over four innings.
By comparison, Stultz threw 71 pitches in four innings.
“That was good for us, especially early in the tournament,” Angelberger said. “The more pitches we see, the more recognition we can have. We’re seeing our pitches, we’re being selective and when we see our pitches, we’re putting good swings on them.”
The Bulls also had a strong relief effort from redshirt freshman Matt Stull. Stull pitched the final five innings and picked up his fifth win of the season.
“I was just trying to come in and throw strikes,” Stull said. “When you have that kind of lead, you just have to throw strikes and do what you can to give your team a chance.”
USF carried the momentum of a four-game winning streak into the second round of the Big East tournament – which the players felt was important.
“We really wanted to enter the tournament strong,” Stull said. “If you had to pick a situation to be in, we’re in a pretty good one right now.”
The Bulls’ win meant that they had to play No. 2 seed Cincinnati on Wednesday in a game that ended late. USF players, however, knew how important a day one victory was.
“It’s possible to come back from the loser’s bracket, but it’s tough to play that one extra game,” Angelberger said. “We were in the driver’s seat last year and didn’t get it done, so it was nice to get that momentum early. As long as we can keep our heads on straight and come out to play the game right, I think we have a shot.”