TALLAHASSEE — It’s hard to argue that USF didn’t have its chances Tuesday night at Dick Howser Stadium.
It’s also hard to argue the Bulls (2-4) didn’t take advantage of those chances in their 7-3 loss to No. 14 FSU (3-1).
USF was 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-3 with the bases loaded.
All those chances came early, though. The Bulls didn’t get a runner past second base after the third inning or one into scoring position past the fifth.
“We’ve just got to keep battling, keep going at it, keep getting better,” coach Billy Mohl said. “We’ve just got to keep getting better.”
The turning point was when FSU brought in freshman right-hander Parker Messick into a two-on, nobody-out situation in the third inning. While he allowed those inherited runners to score — albeit unearned — Messick struck out five and allowed two hits in 2.2 innings.
And it didn’t get any easier after that, as Seminole pitching retired 15 of the last 16 batters it faced.
Things weren’t bleak all night for the Bulls, though. In fact, USF scored the game’s first three runs.
Freshman Dontae Mitchell, who led the game off with a walk and advanced to second on a base hit by sophomore Riley Hogan, opened the scoring on a single by senior Jordan Santos. Tuesday marked the first time that Mitchell led off, going 1-for-4 with two runs scored.
“We’re still trying to maneuver the lineup a little bit, putting Donate in the leadoff spot,” Mohl said. “For a freshman to go up there, on this stage — I was really excited to see that.”
With two outs and the bases loaded in the third inning, a throwing error on FSU third baseman Carter Smith, attempting to force Hogan at second base, allowed senior J.D. Dutka and Mitchell to score.
The Seminoles then scored seven unanswered runs.
FSU tied things up in the fourth via a rally off senior left-hander Logan Lyle, who came on in relief of starter Nick Davila after Davila threw two scoreless innings.
But the big blow came in the sixth when FSU catcher Matheu Nelson hit a three-run homer to left field off senior right-hander Matt Marini, who suffered his first loss of the season. Nelson recorded another RBI in the seventh when he walked with the bases loaded.
While the numbers won’t look pretty in the box score, Mohl was relatively pleased with his staff’s performance — including that of his starter Davila, who made his first start at USF since transferring from HCC.
“He was OK,” Mohl said. “He was on a pitch count because we’ve got to have him available for the weekend. He just threw on Saturday.
“A lot of guys you saw go out there, that was their first college appearance, and I thought they handled the situation well. The one uncharacteristic thing is we had nine walks and against a team like this, you can’t give them nine walks. They only had eight hits and those walks ended up being the story of the game.”
The pitchers that made their USF debuts were Davila and freshman Rese Brown (0.2 IP, 1 ER, 3 BB). Senior right-hander Andres Perez made his first appearance since stepping away from baseball to focus on academics in 2017, while freshman Carmine Lane made his first appearance on the mound though he had appeared as a position player prior to Tuesday night.
“I don’t believe in participation trophies, but I’ll give credit to these guys,” Mohl said. “There’s no quitting. Baseball is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. So as long as we’re making progress and doing the right things — there was a lot of positives. … We’re going to build on the small successes and it will eventually lead to big success.”
The aforementioned marathon was apparent for the Bulls the last few days. USF played five games in as many days, although it won’t play again until Saturday afternoon when it faces Northeastern in a doubleheader at the USF Baseball Stadium.
The time off is a welcome sight to Mohl, but so were all the games.
“It’s big for these guys,” Mohl said. “That’s a lot out of the gates early. But it was also an opportunity for a lot of guys to get in and get opportunities that they might not have had had we had a traditional four-game week.”