Bulls top Panthers in Big East tourney

Randy Fontanez has waited and waited … and waited.

Nearly two weeks since his last start — and after Tuesday night’s game was postponed — USF’s ace finally took the mound, recovering from a slow start to lead the Bulls to a 12-2 first-round victory over Pittsburgh in the Big East baseball tournament at Bright House Field in Clearwater on Wednesday.

Fontanez, who’s given up 26 percent of his runs this season in the first two innings, delivered his sixth complete game, giving up two earned runs on eight hits while striking out one to move his record to 7-3 on the year.

“Of course, it was nice to get out there (and pitch),” said Fontanez, who was named first-team All-Big East this week. “I think that’s why in my first two (innings) I didn’t pitch well — because I was so excited. In the third I felt good and after that it felt natural.”

The seventh-seeded Panthers took a 2-1 lead on a RBI single by sophomore outfielder John Schultz in the second and a solo home run by second baseman Chris Sedon in the first.

The USF bats answered, however, bringing in three runs in the bottom of the third. After loading the bases with no one out, outfielder Stephen Hunt sent a ground ball up the middle and Sedon couldn’t field it, giving the Bulls two runs on the error. Designated hitter Chris Rey then grounded out for a double play that drove in first baseman Todd Brazeal.

The second-seeded Bulls added three runs in the fifth, two in the bottom of the sixth and three in the eighth from shortstop Sam Mende’s three-run homer, which ended the game because of the 10-run rule.

USF coach Lelo Prado said it was important for the offense to support Fontanez when he struggled early.

“Especially after last weekend (at Louisville) when we didn’t do a good job offensively, it was nice to see our bats get going again,” he said.

The Bulls were swept in three games last week at Louisville, preventing them from clinching the Big East regular season title.

On Wednesday, USF was led at the plate by Jonathan Koscso, who went 3-for-5 with three runs scored. The Bulls also got two-hit performances from outfielder Junior Carlin, Brazeal, Rey and Mende.

With the win, USF moves into today’s winner’s bracket game against sixth-seeded Connecticut at 4 p.m. at Bright House Field. The Bulls lost two of three during the regular season to the Huskies. Junior right-hander Shawn Sanford, who is 5-3 this season, is scheduled to start for the Bulls.

“UConn is a good team, and they beat us up there,” Prado said. “They beat us in the first and second game, so we’ve got to be ready for them. They’re well coached, and they’re playing good baseball right now.”