USF baseball has been no stranger to late-game heroics just two weeks into its 2017 campaign.
The Bulls (7-1) have had four of their eight games decided in the eighth inning or later, winning three of those contests.
However, the Bulls gave fans a chance to relax Sunday at the USF Baseball Stadium, as they dominated the Red Hawks all afternoon in an 11-2 win that completed a four-game sweep.
“I just told the team, ‘On Sundays, this is what you want to do,’” USF coach Mark Kingston said. “‘You want to pitch really well, which we did. You want to play great defense and make no errors and you want to score a lot of runs on Sunday.’ So, I think we were good in all three areas today and that’s what good teams do.”
Miami (0-7) opened the scoring with a run on a passed ball in the top of the first, but USF quickly regained the lead with solo homers from Coco Montes in the first inning and Chris Chatfield in the second.
USF then scored in four of its remaining six innings thanks to 12 team hits, as it inflated its lead to 10 runs heading into the ninth.
The second-inning homer was Chatfield’s second of the weekend, with his first propelling the Bulls to a win in the second game of Saturday’s double-header.
Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth facing an 0-2 count with two outs and a runner on first, Chatfield launched his first homer of the season over the scoreboard in right field to tie the game.
Two batters latter, junior Andres Leal hit a walk-off single to seal the win for USF.
Though Kingston wouldn’t like his team to be trailing late, he said the team has used these late comebacks as emotional fuel.
“We’re going to play 27 outs no matter what the score is,” Kingston said. “We’ve been in a few situations this year where the team only needed three more outs to put us away, and we just didn’t let it happen…
“I think (it’s given them confidence), absolutely. When you do that, you realize you’re a pretty good team and you’re never out of it, so I definitely think that’s something we draw confidence from.”
Aside from Saturday night’s drama, the Bulls had little trouble against the Red Hawks all weekend.
Kingston credited his team’s hot start and 4-0 weekend to the pitching, as the Bulls held Miami to seven runs across 36 innings.
“I think pitching has been what we do best so far,” he said. “That staff and (pitching coach) Billy (Mohl) have done a really good job this year of holding opponents down. So, you also factor in our defense, which we’re fielding over .980 at this point. Our offense, I think, will continue to improve, but right now we are a pitching and defense team and that’s how the good teams are built.”
Friday night starter Phoenix Sanders scattered five hits across seven innings of shutout ball, striking out 10.
In the first game of Saturday, freshman Shane McClanahan allowed just one hit and no runs while striking out nine over six innings in his first win as a Bull. Another freshman pitcher, D.J. Roberts, held Miami scoreless through six innings, but gave up two runs with two outs in the seventh in his first start.
With Peter Strzelecki still confined to a pitch count of 70-80 pitches, the junior lasted only four innings Sunday despite allowing one unearned run while striking out six.
USF will aim to keep its six-game winning streak alive when it hosts Toledo for a three-game series at the USF Baseball Stadium, beginning Friday night at 6:30.