Late spark helps Bulls fight off Memphis

USF baseball hosted the annual "Vs. Cancer" game on Sunday to raise money for Childhood cancer research. ORACLE PHOTO/JACOB HOAG

Leaning halfway over the railing of his own dugout in the top of the ninth, USF first baseman Duke Stunkel Jr. nearly flipped over as he stretched out to snag a foul ball at the USF Baseball Stadium. 

With a quick recovery, Stunkel came up firing to third base and got the Memphis runner out, who slid past the bag. The unusual double play effectively ended the Tigers’ chance at a comeback, sealing the 7-5 USF victory. 

“Earlier in the game, actually, we had talked about how important toughness would be in the difference in winning and losing games and for him to go into the dugout like that, that took toughness, there’s no doubt about it,” USF coach Mark Kingston said. 

“That play took toughness and to have the presence of mind to throw that guy out at third too was just icing on the cake.”

The win helped USF (16-16, 2-4) avoid the series sweep after the Bulls were overmatched in an 8-3 loss on Friday and gave up a late lead to lose 4-3 in the ninth on Saturday. 

After winning six straight non-conference series to set a program record, the Bulls have lost their first two AAC series this season.

“This needs to be a turning point for us,” Kingston said. “We have to protect the culture of this program. Coaches and players, we need to protect the proper culture of this program. I thought today they got a lot of positive reinforcement for doing the right things.”

The USF offense, which had pieced together three runs in each of the first two games, broke out in a big way Sunday.

Trailing 1-0 to the Tigers (12-19, 3-3) with two outs and two aboard in the home half of the third inning, designated hitter Luke Borders lofted a fly ball deep to left field that appeared to be the final out of the inning. 

However, the Memphis left fielder lost the ball in the sun and it landed safely on the warning track, 50 feet behind him. By the time the ball reached the infield, Borders had crossed home for the inside-the-park homer. 

“It took a little heat off at that point, I think,” Kingston said. “We were scratching out runs and we couldn’t break through, so to get three on one play, it almost felt like OK, maybe we can have a little good luck. Because if we’ve had any luck so far, it’s been bad luck.”

Some of that bad luck has resulted in the absence of seniors Levi Borders (bacterial infection) and Luke Maglich (wrist injury), which Kingston said has played a role in the sputtering offense. 

“You take your two best hitters — who are first-team all-conference players — out of your lineup, it’s been a significant hit to our lineup,” Kingston said. 

Led by freshman third baseman David Villar (4-for-5 with a homer), USF bounced back on Sunday and scored its seven runs behind thirteen hits.

“It’s great, personal feeling and for the team, it’s good to get back on track,” Villar said.

Now sitting at .500 on the season, USF will aim to become a winning team again behind plays like Stunkel’s when the Bulls host the University of North Florida on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.