USF sweeps Big Ten/Big East challenge

Off the field, the USF baseball team couldn’t have had a worse start to the season this weekend. On the field, it couldn’t have been much better, even if it all ended a little early.

Needing to get to St. Petersburg for a 10 a.m. start against Ohio State, the Bulls gathered in the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center to catch the team bus across the bay. But the bus never showed up.

To make it in time, the Bulls piled into a total of 13 cars to make the 36-mile trip to the Walter Fuller Complex, where they beat Ohio State 5-3 to help the Big East’s effort to win the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.

On subsequent trips to Clearwater on Saturday and St. Petersburg on Sunday, the Bulls had their bus. The winning didn’t change, though, as USF opened the season 3-0 with a 2-1 win over Michigan State and a 4-3, seven-inning win over Minnesota.

Designated hitter Todd Brazeal started the season off well against the Buckeyes, going 4-for-4 with a walk and run in the win.

Backing Brazeal was a strong effort from the USF bullpen as Nick Gonzalez, Adrian Puig and Ray Delphey combined for 5.1 shutout innings, allowing only three hits, in relief of starter Kyle Parker. Gonzalez earned the win with four strikeouts in 3.2 innings.

Against the Spartans at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, USF’s offense struggled for most of the day, with USF trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the eighth inning until a James Ramsay RBI double scored Alex Mendez to tie the game, setting the stage for a dramatic ninth inning walk off.

Catcher Andrew Longley, who was 0-for-3 on the afternoon, hit a homerun clear over the wall in straightaway left field that sent Spartans left fielder Jordan Keur retreating to his dugout before the ball even crossed the wall.

“I can’t describe it,” Longley said. “It was unbelievable. … I just couldn’t wait to get around third base and see all my team at home plate. That was the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

Sunday against Minnesota at Al Lang Field, USF earned a win in abrupt fashion for the second consecutive day, though under entirely different circumstances.

The Bulls led throughout the first seven innings and carried a 4-3 lead into the top of the eighth.

The Golden Gophers led off the inning with a double and a single, putting runners on the corners with none out, before Minnesota’s dugout emptied and the coaches shook hands, ending the game early.

With a 6:45 p.m. flight home to Minneapolis, the team had to stop playing at 4:30 p.m. regardless of score or game situation.

“If we had scored, we couldn’t have stayed, so we just said we’d walk off the field at 4:30,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “It wouldn’t have been fair if we had scored two runs and then left.”

USF coach Lelo Prado credited Anderson for a “classy” decision that helped the Bulls finish the weekend undefeated.

“It stinks for them because they had a rally going, but we made that agreement before the game,” he said.