USF takes series behind offense

Home field advantage seemed to be just what USF needed this weekend.

USF (7-13) took the finale of a three-game series 13-4 against Mercer (14-6) on Sunday at Red McEwen Field, earning its first series win of the year after splitting the first two games.

Construction plans for a new stadium were delayed, allowing the Bulls to play at home.

“The Red is good to me,” said coach Lelo Prado. “I don’t have to travel all over the place.”

The Bulls will play the rest of their remaining home games at Red McEwen, with the exception of a series against Connecticut, which will be at George Steinbrenner Field later this season.

“It was really exciting for me to find out that we were going to get some extra games (at Red McEwen Field),” said redshirt junior center fielder Ryan Lockwood, who went 4-for-13 in the series.

USF has won four of its last five games before starting the season 3-11.

“We’re still grinding our way out of the funk,” Lockwood said.

In the series opener against Mercer on Friday night, Randy Fontanez pitched a solid eight innings, giving up two runs while striking out eight in a 2-1 loss. The Bulls left nine runners on base.

“He pitched a great game,” Prado said Friday. “He can’t pitch much better than that.”

USF scored 18 runs on 24 hits in the next two games. The Bulls won 5-3 in the second game behind junior pitcher Andrew Barbosa.

“It’s a lot easier when we get runs earlier. Then I know I just got to do what I got to do,” Barbosa said Saturday after the Bulls scored four runs in the first four innings.

Barbosa pitched 6 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts and one earned run in the start.

“We have to keep playing short-ball and being aggressive on the bases. As a whole, we see as individuals what we need to do,” said catcher Eric Sim, who went 7-for-12 in the series with two three-hit games.

“Our bats are starting to come alive,” Prado said. “We’re starting to play the way I thought we would play all year.”

Despite a 7-13 record, USF’s players remain confident about their chances of taking the Big East title this season.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the locker room that doesn’t think we’re going to win the Big East,” Lockwood said Sunday. “We’re all excited about the possibilities.”