Baseball takes opening series against Samford

Sophomore Graham Hoffman pitched 2.1 scoreless innings Sunday against Samford and earned his first save of the season. ORACLE PHOTO/JOSÉE WOBLE

The game and series win was on the line for the Bulls in the top of the eighth inning Sunday at the USF Baseball Stadium. With the bases loaded, no outs and USF up 3-1, a pin drop could be heard on the home side of the stands.

The pressure didn’t stop sophomore Graham Hoffman, though. He struck out all three batters he faced to get USF out of the inning unharmed. Bulls fans erupted with excitement.

“Oh man, that is the best feeling,” Hoffman said. “It really gets you going, that’s what I live for. It’s great, it’s the best feeling.”

That feeling is what helped lead the Bulls to a series victory over the Samford Bulldogs. It’s also when Hoffman performs best.

“Hoffman, for whatever reason, loves thriving in that role,” coach Billy Mohl said. “He’s a competitor, you can see the emotion he wears on his face. I’ll go to war with that guy any day.”

Graham Hoffman celebrates with catcher Jake Sullivan after USF defeated Samford on Sunday. ORACLE PHOTO/JOSÉE WOBLE

It wasn’t just the effort from Hoffman that secured the weekend win, it was a combination of pitching, performance from freshmen and defensive plays.

Junior pitcher Ben Koff made his first appearance as a Bull. After spending his first two years at the College of Central Florida, he surrendered just one hit in 4.2 innings, setting up Hoffman and the Bulls for success to close the game.

“Those are our two best guys,” Mohl said. “You saw that today, you saw the reason why.”

Freshmen Nick Gonzalez and Dylan Buck both made their collegiate debuts this weekend. Starting all three games, the duo had strong offensive and defensive performances.

Gonzalez, a Tampa native, finished the weekend batting 7-for-14 with three RBIs. Buck played every inning at third base, replacing All-American David Villar who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 11th round of the 2018 MLB Draft.

“They were huge,” Hoffman said. “Nicky went off, they both played really strong defense and they were crushing the ball. It’s awesome to see them playing as well as they are.”

USF (2-1) has a tough schedule coming up. The Bulls face No. 6 Florida at home Tuesday and then travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to face No. 7 North Carolina on Friday.

“We have these next five games coming up against top-10 opponents in the country,” Mohl said. “It’s just another part of the process of getting this team ready for conference play.”