Bulls start AAC tournament with a win

With Tuesday's win, USF is now 32-0 this season when leading after 8 innings, and has won at least one game in the conference tournament in each of the last six seasons. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

USF baseball’s regular season was filled with late-inning comebacks, and Tuesday night showed that those comebacks didn’t stop with the end of the regular season.

Rallying from a three-run deficit twice, USF countered each Tulane surge with one of its own, topping the Green Wave 7-6 in the first round of the AAC tournament at Spectrum Field.

“It was two really good teams that were able to take advantage of the conditions,” coach Mark Kingston said. “The wind was blowing out hard today, so you saw a lot of homers from both teams. I just thought at the end, we got one more big hit.”

That big hit for the Bulls came in the bottom of the eighth inning from Duke Stunkel.

With the Bulls dugout bursting in emotion following an infield single that didn’t even make it past the pitcher from Kevin Merrell, Stunkel shot a double down the left-field line that scored Merrell to tie the game at six.

Two batters later, Tulane third baseman Hunter Hope misplayed a sharp grounder from Joe Genord, scoring Stunkel and earning the Bulls a 7-6 lead.

With the wind blowing hard to straight center, Tulane hammered a two-run home run in the fourth inning and a three-run shot in the fifth that pushed its lead to three both times, but had minimal offense against the Bulls bullpen in the game’s final innings.

“We came out here a little slow in the beginning,” Stunkel said. “But the leaders came out later and we stayed together as a team like we have all year. We got the ‘W,’ and that’s all that matters.”

The win, however, would not come without a last inning push from the Green Wave.

With runners on first and second and two out, Tulane had its No. 1 batter and AAC co-player of the year, Hunter Williams, up to bat.

Williams swung at the first pitch from reliever Joe Cavallaro and then watched in anguish as the ball drifted to left field, falling into Stunkel’s glove and giving the Bulls their first conference tournament win over Tulane in school history, fittingly, in comeback style.

“It was one of those games that you just know would come down all the way to the end,” Kingston said. “Luckily, Joe got the big out to close it out with one of the best hitters in the country at the plate.”

“We’ve been doing it all year,” Stunkel said with a grin.

With No. 5 Tulane (27-30, 13-11) out of the way, the Bulls will play the No. 8 seed Eastern Carolina (29-27, 8-17) on Thursday night at 7 at Spectrum Field.

USF swept the series against Eastern Carolina in the regular season 3-0, and has not yet announced a starting pitcher for Thursday night’s game.