Bulls rebound for series win over Rattlers

Despite allowing 10 batters to reach base, senior pitcher Ryan Valdes held Florida A&M to one run over five innings in the Bulls’ 7-1 win on Sunday. 

The USF baseball team found itself in an unfamiliar position this week after over a month straight of wins. 

The Bulls dropped two games — a 2-1 loss at No. 15 FGCU on Wednesday and an 11th inning 3-2 loss to Florida A&M on Saturday — which ended their 19 game winning streak one game short of the program record. 

Though it was the first two-loss week for the Bulls (22-3) in 2017, they wrapped up the weekend by taking the series against the Rattlers with a 7-1 win at the USF Baseball Stadium on Sunday. 

“That’s a good team that will probably be in an NCAA regional,” USF coach Mark Kingston said. “Wish we would have swept it, had the tough luck on Saturday night, but we came out with the series win.”

Kingston began the weekend with pitchers Phoenix Sanders on Friday and Shane McClanahan on Saturday, but decided to shake up the rotation Sunday. Rather than throwing typical Sunday starter Peter Strzelecki, he instead chose senior Ryan Valdes. 

In five starts, Strzelecki has held the opposition to just four earned runs, but has had difficulty lasting deep into games. Limited to a pitch count to begin the season because of Tommy John surgery in 2016, the junior has averaged just over four innings per start. 

“We’re looking at different guys for different roles, and we want to see if (Valdes) is one of the guys we’ll consider as a starter,” Kingston said.

Valdes ran into trouble to begin the game, allowing a run in the opening frame when he allowed a one-out RBI double. He went on to limit the Rattlers to no runs over the next four innings, despite allowing runners to reach scoring position in four of his five innings pitched.

“He just settled in, that seems to be his pattern,” Kingston said. “He gets himself into a little bit of trouble, but he finds a way to get out of it, he did that again today. He’s got composure, he’s got some out-pitches.”

USF scored 20 runs over the weekend even without leading hitter Kevin Merrell. The starting shortstop, who is hitting .430, was held out with the flu and Kingston said he hopes to have him back this week. 

The Bulls will host Stetson on Tuesday before beginning conference play this weekend with a three-game series at Tulane.