USF atop Big East after sweeping Cincinnati on road

A momentum-halting loss to Stetson last week, combined with the teams first out-of-state road trip of the season, was not enough to stop the Bulls from a three-game sweep over Cincinnati and continuing their best start in conference play since joining the Big East in 2005.

USF won all three games in different fashion, with an explosive eighth inning to win Thursdays game 8-2, an extra-inning 3-2 win Friday night and a quick start Saturday to seal the sweep with an 8-5 victory. The sweep stretched the Bulls Big East start to 8-1, good for a share of first place in the conference, which they hold with Connecticut.

Andrew Barbosa began the series for the Bulls on Thursday night and provided yet another solid performance, allowing five hits and just one earned run, while striking out six. The senior has averaged 11 strikeouts per game in his last three starts.

The teams were tied at two entering the eighth inning, before the Bulls busted the game open with six runs. After the Bulls loaded the bases to start the inning on three walks, an error and an RBI single from Andrew Longley put two runs on the board. Alex Mendez then delivered with a bases-clearing double to ice the game, sealing the 8-2 win.

We didnt really have that many good at-bats with the bases loaded … but when things are going good you get a good bounce, and then Alex Mendez and the other guys had good at-bats … We got a win, coach Lelo Prado said.

Looking to seal their third Big East series win of the season, USF sent undefeated starter Joey Lovecchio to the mound Friday night. The junior responded with eight strong innings, allowing six hits and two runs with eight strikeouts.

In another closely contested game, the Bulls were responsible for two rallies to pick up the win. Their first came in the top of the ninth when, down by one and down to their last out, Kyle Teaf drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game. Both teams were scoreless for two extra innings before Zac Gilcrease delivered the go-ahead RBI in the top of the 12th, clinching the series with a 3-2 win.

We had some good at-bats there in the ninth, tied it (and) kept battling, so Im proud of the guys, the way they fought, then everybody came out of the bullpen and did their job, Prado said.

With a chance to sweep their second Big East series just nine games into the season, Derrick Stultz got the start for USF in Saturdays finale and picked up his fifth win of the year after working six innings and allowing three runs.

Stultz was aided by his offense, led by senior Daniel Rockhold, who hit his team-leading fifth home run of the season to start the scoring in the top of the second inning. Longley had his third home run of the season, a two-run shot in the top of the sixth. Rockhold also had a bases-loaded double in the fifth and had four RBIs in the game.

After sweeping the Bearcats, the Bulls now look to avenge their 6-2 loss to Stetson. The Bulls will travel to DeLand on Tuesday before heading to Pittsburgh for a weekend series against the Panthers.