Bulls split first edition of War on I-4

Redshirt freshman Jack Jasiak (above) allowed three earned runs and struck out seven over seven innings in a loss against the Knights on Thursday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The USF baseball team opened conference play with a four-game series split against UCF in the first of two regular-season War on I-4 matchups.

The Bulls were able to take both games of a doubleheader Friday, but were slayed by the Knights in game one Thursday and game four Saturday.

“Obviously you want to win the series, you want to take three out of four, but I thought they competed hard,” coach Billy Mohl said. “I thought we hit a lot of balls hard today and didn’t have a whole lot to show for it.” 

In the series opener, the Bulls jumped out to an early lead on the back of a strong performance from redshirt freshman pitcher Jack Jasiak, as well as two RBIs from redshirt junior Riley Hogan and redshirt sophomore Julio Cortez.

In the bottom of the second, Hogan launched a solo home run to open the scoring, his fourth of the season. Later, in the bottom of the fourth, Cortez knocked in a run with a single that brought redshirt junior Jake Sullivan home. 

Jasiak, who struck out seven over seven innings, had a hot start as he went through the game’s first five frames allowing no runs. In the top of the sixth, however, the Knights put three runs on the board. 

UCF tacked on two more runs in the ninth and USF couldn’t come back, ultimately losing 5-2.

The Bulls used four different pitchers to close out the game’s final two innings, a pattern that seems to be an area of concern. Finding a starter for the first game of the series, but not being able to consistently have a bullpen behind him.

The script flipped in game two. This time the Bulls fell behind early but were able to rally back and fend off the Knights.

UCF scored two runs in the first inning, but that was all they were ultimately able to muster as pitchers Dylan Burns and Baron Stuart were able to neutralize the Knights for the rest of the game.

As far as the bats go, redshirt freshman Carmine Lane hit a solo home run in the first inning, followed by a three-run home run by redshirt sophomore Roberto Peña in the fourth. 

Two more runs would come across the plate before the Bulls evened up the series, winning game two 6-2. 

“I thought after last week, going to Lubbock and playing a top five team in the country, I thought our guys came out and responded well,” Mohl said. “I thought they did exactly what we challenged them to do over the week.

“And if you look at our pitching numbers over the weekend, you couldn’t have asked for more than what our guys did.”

Perhaps the most dominant pitching performance came in game three courtesy of redshirt senior Collin Sullivan.

Sullivan nearly tossed a complete game and did not allow a single run over 8.2 innings. He also only allowed three hits while striking out nine batters.

Redshirt senior Logan Lyle came in to record the final out of the game and registered his second save of the season as the Bulls beat the Knights 3-1 in the second game of the doubleheader Friday.

“It’s what you expect out of a fifth-year senior,” Mohl said of Sullivan’s performance. “That was kind of what he looked like in 2019, obviously he struggled a little bit last year in the shortened season and he didn’t get off to the greatest start, but he’s a competitor.

“[He] kept working, and that was vintage Collin Sullivan last night.”

During the series finale, the pitching excellence continued for USF but the offensive output was nowhere to be found.

After being no-hit for nearly seven innings, USF finally notched two in the bottom of the seventh, but no runs were scored on the way to a 3-0 loss.

“At the end of the day I look at our quality at-bats, I thought we hit a lot of balls hard, obviously the wind conditions were blowing hard in, we’ve got to do a better job of getting on top of the ball and keeping the ball in the line,” Mohl said. “[There] were too many balls their outfielders were able to get under and get us out.”

Freshman Drew Brutcher, who played in the first two games of the series, was not in the lineup for games three and four. A hand injury was the reason, according to Mohl.

“He missed games three and four because he’s dealing with a little hand issue right now,” Mohl said.

Brutcher has quickly become one of the more prominent hitters on the team, his offensive presence was missed during the shutout.

Conference play will now continue throughout the rest of the season as USF will next take on Tulane for a four-game series at home.

The series against the Green Wave will begin with a doubleheader April 9 with the first pitch in game one scheduled 3 p.m.

Each game of the series will be televised on ESPN+.