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Baseball grabs top spot in the Big East

The Bulls finally got what they were looking for: a place atop the Big East.

Junior Shawn Sanford pitched 7 1/3 solid innings, freshman Joe Cole got his second save in three days and the USF baseball team (24-14, 12-3) won the last of a three-game series at Villanova 6-4 Sunday afternoon, giving the Bulls sole possession of first place in the Big East conference standings.

“That’s what we’re playing for, to be the best in the Big East,” said USF coach Lelo Prado. “We have a huge weekend coming up (with West Virginia), but it feels good right now. The guys have done a great job. We have to stay focused and finish strong.”

Sanford allowed just two earned runs on Sunday. Cole pitched scoreless eighth and ninth innings in relief, two days after pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings to close out the 6-4 win Friday.

“(Shawn) did a great job for eight innings. It was probably the best he’s thrown all year,” Prado said. “Joe (Cole) came in and did a great job again. We needed that out of both of them, and they stepped up.”

The victory couldn’t have come at a better time, as West Virginia lost both of its games Saturday at Notre Dame, leaving the door open for the Bulls. WVU and USF enter this weekend’s series at Red McEwen Field with 10-2 conference records.

“We knew they lost two (Saturday), so we knew winning (Sunday) would put us out in front,” Cole said. “It was a huge game, a tough situation for me and a really good feeling to get the last out of a game like that.”

In the ninth, Villanova put the tying run at the plate with runners on first and third and one out. Cole, however, got the next two hitters to strike out and ground out to end the game.

“All I was trying to focus on was locating my fastball,” Cole said.

The Bulls lost 11-7 on Saturday, but the weekend was more than a success, said center fielder Ryan Lockwood.

“(Being in first) is obviously something we’re excited about, but at the same time we know we still have work ahead of us,” said Lockwood, who missed the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader against FIU because of injury.

Lockwood played all three games of the weekend series and reached base for his 80th consecutive game.