Historic day sets stage for sweep

More than 1,000 fans stood on their feet in the ninth inning and watched as USF junior pitcher Randy Fontanez finished a dramatic performance.

With two runners on base – after a walk and a catcher interference call – and two outs, Fontanez, USF’s ace and Big East Preseason Pitcher of the Year, struck out the final batter, sealing the program’s third no-hitter in its history and giving the Bulls a 4-0 victory against Notre Dame in the conference opener Friday.

“I’ve been a head coach for a long time, and I’ve never seen one of those,” USF coach Lelo Prado said of Fontanez’s performance.

Fontanez struck out a career-high 12 batters and walked two.

“I (felt) amazing. It’s incredible,” said Fontanez, who was mobbed by teammates after the game. “I never thought that would happen.”

Teammates were just as in awe as Fontanez.

“I’ve never seen anything like that at the college level and just being a part of it … That’s incredible,” said junior shortstop Jonathan Koscso, who went 6-for-13 with five RBI and four runs in the series.

The Bulls’ bats came through as well, scoring four runs, including a home run from Koscso. But it was Fontanez’s night.

“He went out there and took it upon himself to come out and have a quality start. It turned into a no-hitter, but he was just competing,” said junior center fielder Ryan Lockwood, who smashed a towel full of shaving cream in his teammate’s face in the dugout after the game.

It was the first win of the season for Fontanez, who struggled early in the season. In his previous start against Mercer, he pitched well but didn’t get run support, striking out eight batters in eight innings, while allowing only two earned runs as USF lost 2-1.

“Hopefully, this sets the tempo for the rest of the year and we keep playing well and win the Big East title,” Fontanez said Friday.

Fontanez’s outing gave the Bulls momentum heading into the weekend, as they swept the Irish behind more solid pitching and a persistent offense.

On Sunday, the Bulls scored seven runs in the second inning – all coming with two outs – as senior left-hander Teddy Kaufman won his fourth straight in a 10-2 win. The Bulls won 6-3 on Saturday.

Sophomore shortstop Sam Mende returned to the lineup after sitting out with a broken jaw early in the season. He served as designated hitter and is not yet ready to return to the field.

“I’d been trying to come back for weeks and coach wouldn’t let me,” said Mende, who went 5-for-12 with three runs and two RBI in the series.

Prado said he was glad to see Mende back.

“When he’s back in the lineup and he plays the way he’s capable of playing, we’re a better offense,” Prado said.

The Bulls are on a six-game winning streak and will face Stetson on Tuesday. Since the inspiring performance by Fontanez, the Bulls scored 16 runs on 22 hits.

“It couldn’t have happened to a better person than Randy. He’s just what every coach dreams of,” Prado said. “He’s what a student-athlete is supposed to be.”