Dead offense pushes USFs season to brink

USF coach Lelo Prado saw his team’s bats go cold at the wrong time.

The Bulls got a strong start from ace Randy Fontanez but failed to capitalize on a bases loaded one-out situation in the ninth, losing to St. John’s 3-2 on Wednesday night in the first round of the Big East tournament at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

With Fontanez still in the game, the Red Storm put runners on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. Reliever Trey Dahl retired the next Red Storm hitter, but Kevin Quackenbush, who relieved Dahl after he faced just one batter, loaded the bases. Designated hitter Sean O’Hare then singled home the winning run.

USF had only five hits total and just three off Red Storm starter Kyle Hansen, who gave up an earned run and struck out eight in eight innings.

‘”We were dead from the first inning on. Offensively, we couldn’t get anything going,” Prado said. “Their pitcher had a lot to do with it, but if that’s the way we’re going to swing the bats, that’s not good.”

“You’re not going to win many tournaments with three hits, four hits.”

Junior Stephen Hunt’s RBI double put USF up 1-0 in the first, while Fontanez, an all-Big East second-team selection, pitched scoreless ball until the sixth, when the Red Storm tied the game 1-1 on an RBI double by shortstop Joe Panik.

Matt Wessinger hit a go-ahead solo homer in the bottom of the eighth off Fontanez to put the Red Storm up 2-1. Sophomore Todd Brazeal then tied the game for USF with an RBI single in the top of the ninth. With the bases loaded and one out, freshman Chad Taylor lined into an inning-ending double play.

“You had them on the ropes. Chad Taylor hit a line drive – you can’t fault the kid,” Prado said.

Fontanez struck out eight and gave up three earned runs in eight innings, but failed to get run support.

“A loss is a loss. They’re all hard to lose,” Fontanez said. “Tomorrow’s a new day … I felt like I left it all out there, so there’s nothing else I can do.”

The fifth-seeded Bulls will face eighth-seeded West Virginia today at 5 p.m., with the loser eliminated from tournament play. Junior Andrew Barbosa is expected to start for USF.