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Pitching carries USF to weekend sweep over Florida A&M

Superb starting pitching carried the USF baseball team to a series sweep over Florida A&M this weekend as the team evened its record to 5-5.

Senior Randy Fontanez opened the weekend Friday night with eight shutout innings as the Bulls cruised to a 5-0 win. Freshman Nick Gonzalez started the first game of a Saturday doubleheader, with Kyle Eastham starting the nightcap. The Bulls won 13-4 and 6-0, respectively.

Fontanez (1-1) needed just 84 pitches – 66 of them for strikes – to go eight innings, allowing just six hits and striking out eight Rattlers. This is the kind of performance USF fans have come to expect from Fontanez, a four-year starter.

But it was his other contribution that excited Bulls fans.

After catcher Daniel Rockhold was hit in the hand with a pitch and forced to leave the game, Fontanez stepped into the batter’s box for the first at-bat of his collegiate career. He hit a sharp grounder to second base, collecting an infield single. He then stole second base as part of a double steal and eventually made it all the way to third base before the inning ended.

“That was more exciting than pitching, I’d have to say,” he said. “Thanks to (coach Lelo) Prado for letting me hit. It’s about time. I just looked down (to the third base coach), smiled and swung.”

Fontanez grounded out in his second and final at-bat, dropping his career batting average to a mere .500.

Gonzalez got the start in the first game of the doubleheader due to the forearm injury sustained by normal No. 2 starter Andrew Barbosa a week ago.

In the first two starts of his college career, Gonzalez had lasted a combined seven innings, walking 10 and allowing four runs. All of that changed Saturday.

Gonzalez went six innings, allowing just two hits and striking out eight. He did not allow a walk in the game.

The Bulls’ offense scored in each of the first four innings, as well as the seventh and eighth, to post more than 10 runs for the first time this season.

It was more of the same in the series finale Saturday night, with Eastham making his first start of the season.

Eastham went seven innings and set a new career-high with 11 strikeouts. He surrendered just four hits in the game.

“I felt great tonight coming in, and threw strikes. That’s the key,” Eastham said. “I had no idea (how many strikeouts I had). It’s one of those things where you’re just out there throwing strikes and getting outs. When it’s over and you hear the number, you’re surprised by it.”

Prado praised the efforts of his starting pitching, but also recognized the improved offense.

“A lot of positives on that pitching staff, and a lot of positives offensively. We’re starting to hit with guys in scoring position, and that’s how you win ball games,” Prado said.

The Bulls host two midweek games against in-state opposition, starting with Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday at 7 p.m., followed by a matchup with the Florida Gators on Wednesday.