After a delay due to weather complications, the USF baseball team eventually defeated South Alabama in the Gainesville Regional championship game Monday to move on to a Super Regional for the first time in program history.
South Alabama (36-22, 15-9 SBC) beat USF (31-28, 14-14 AAC) in a resumed game Monday afternoon, and the two teams were set for a winner-take-all match scheduled to begin at 2:10 p.m. After some storms rolled through, the first pitch finally occurred at 4 p.m. and the game was underway.
The Bulls went down early but eventually ended up on top, beating the Jaguars 6-4.
“That was just a gutsy win,” coach Billy Mohl said. “It’s what this team has done all year. We have a group in that locker room that believes in each other, and with all the rain delays and everything else, there was no quit in them.
“At the end of the day they are like a bunch of dogs, they hang out together and it was really fun to watch them celebrate there again.”
The Jaguars didn’t hesitate to get a head start by putting up two runs in the first three innings as the Bulls’ bats remained quiet.
USF finally put a couple runs on the board in the top of the fourth inning to tie the game at two apiece thanks to redshirt sophomore Jarrett Eaton’s two-run double.
Eaton also logged another RBI with a single in the sixth inning to give his team a 3-2 lead.
“Jarrett’s been outstanding,” Mohl said. “I keep thinking about Memphis where he didn’t play a whole lot and that wasn’t that long ago, maybe a month ago, and down the stretch he’s been unbelievable.
“He had the big double today to tie the game up, which could have been three runs if that thing didn’t bounce over the wall. [He] had another base knock with a runner at second … to score [Daniel] Cantu. [The] kid plays hard, he’s a great kid and he deserves every bit of that.”
The score remained the same until in the eighth inning when both teams came out with a run. The damage against the Bulls could have been much worse, however. Redshirt junior pitcher Joseph Sanchez found himself in a bases-loaded jam with only one out.
Sanchez drew a pop fly first and then struck out a Jaguar to get USF out of harm’s way.
“Joey S. has been good for us all year,” Mohl said of Sanchez. “Especially when we scored those couple [of] runs late, it was Joey S.’s turn to finish the game because you know you’re getting a proven strike thrower and you don’t have to burn anybody else [from the bullpen].”
Four Bulls combined for nine innings pitched Monday. Redshirt senior Dylan Burns started the game and allowed two earned runs over two and a third innings. The trio of Sanchez, redshirt freshman Orion Kerkering and redshirt senior Logan Lyle came on in relief and finished the job.
The Bulls tacked on two more runs in the ninth inning as insurance. Although one of the runs scored on an error, freshman Drew Brutcher hit a single that drove in Eaton all the way from first base.
Brutcher came into the game as a pinch hitter in the early game against the Jaguars and did so again in the winner-take-all match. Before that, he hadn’t seen the field since April 17 due to an injury.
“I’ve had [the possibility of Brutcher playing] in my back pocket for a week,” Mohl said. “I’ve just been waiting, he’s still not ready to go play a position yet. I didn’t know if I was going to have the guts to do it, but my gut told me ‘Get him in.’
“His first at bat was very promising and then there late with the righty on the mound and a chance to do some more damage we rolled the dice, and Brutch has a chance to be a really special player here as you guys can see.”
Sanchez stepped on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning with a three-run lead. Despite surrendering a two-out home run, Sanchez retired three South Alabama batters and clinched the Bulls’ first Super Regional appearance in program history where they will take on No. 2 Texas.
“It’s the kids, they’re the ones who made it,” Mohl said. “This is a special group of guys, they’ll forever be known as the first [USF baseball] team to get to a Super Regional.
“But as they’ll tell you, they’re not done yet. They want to be the first [USF baseball] program to get to Omaha and we got the leadership in the clubhouse who truly believes that. It’s a big step and it’s 100% on the kids, they’ve got no quit in them.”