Cantu walks off to win series against Florida Atlantic

Redshirt freshman Daniel Cantu’s (center) first career home run came at an opportune time, as it proved to be the difference-maker Sunday. @USFBASEBALL/TWITTER

Redshirt freshman Daniel Cantu’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning lifted the USF baseball team to a 6-5 victory in Sunday afternoon’s rubber match against Florida Atlantic.

Not only was the home run in walk-off fashion, it was also the first home run in Cantu’s young collegiate career.

“He deserves that moment right there, that is one of the hardest working kids we have on this team,” coach Billy Mohl said of Cantu. “He has put in a lot of time and effort into everything … I was really happy to see him have that moment today.”

Coming into the series, the Bulls lost their past four games and looked to be in danger of a skid after dropping the first game of the series 5-1 on Friday. 

However, improved pitching proved to be beneficial and helped the Bulls bounce back in the following two games, according to Mohl.

“If you look overall it was the pitching [where we improved the most], our pitching got back on track,” Mohl said. “[We] changed up the rotation a little bit.”

In Game 1, redshirt freshman Jack Jasiak allowed zero earned runs through seven innings, but an error in the third was costly as four Owls crossed the plate in the top half of that inning.

The Bulls were able to put a run on the board in the bottom of the eighth thanks to an RBI by redshirt freshman Carmine Lane.

However, that was ultimately all they could muster. 

Things quickly changed overnight for the Bulls as redshirt senior Dylan Burns put on a pitching showcase in Game 2 Saturday.

Burns finished with six strikeouts in seven innings and allowed just two hits.

“He entered the Saturday spot and he was really good for us,” Mohl said of Burns’ performance.

As far as run support goes in the second game, Lane got the scoring started in the first inning with a two-run home run. Two more runs came across in the fifth inning via RBIs from freshman Matt Ruiz and redshirt junior Riley Hogan.

“You got to remember, Carmine is still really a freshman for us,” Mohl said. “He has kind of found his groove, he was off to a slow start last year. He is a cage rat who keeps working, working, working, and he had really quality at bats today.”

Ultimately, the Bulls snapped their five-game losing streak and won 4-0.

In Game 3, redshirt senior Collin Sullivan also put on an impressive performance on the mound as he logged 10 strikeouts and allowed two runs through six innings.

“Collin gave us what we’re used to seeing in Collin Sullivan from the previous years,” Mohl said.

The game was neck and neck for the majority of the contest, but a four-run eighth inning headlined by a bases-clearing triple by redshirt sophomore Roberto Peña propelled the Bulls to a 5-3 lead.

“He is kind of the heartbeat of this team, he is our emotional leader,” Mohl said of Peña. “He’s been at Florida, he’s had success at the College of Central Florida, and he plays with his hair on fire, he is the heartbeat of this team.”

Despite the explosive eighth inning, FAU quickly came back to tie the score with a two-run ninth inning, sending the game to extras.

Cantu’s walk-off came two innings later, and the Bulls beat FAU 6-5 to claim the series victory.

Although back-to-back wins is encouraging, there are still some things Mohl believes the team has to touch up on as the season goes along.

“There’s no finished product right now, we still got a lot of things, the play at the the end where Roberto Peña slid into third was supposed to be a suicide squeeze and he misread it,” Mohl said. “But just little things like that, we still defensively we got some work to do and we still have to shore up our bullpen.”

Next up, USF will face North Florida on Tuesday before traveling to Lubbock, Texas, to play No. 7 Texas Tech from March 26-28.

The game against North Florida will begin at 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN+