Bulls battle through another series win against Mercer

The Bulls celebrating sophomore infielder Carmine Lane’s second series walkoff of the season. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Coming off its high-scoring 14-9 win against Florida International, South Florida had a lot more to prepare for with a weekend series against Mercer, one of their more competitive matchups since opening weekend. 

Mercer (16-4) came to Tampa with eight batters hitting over .273 and their rotation holding a collective 2.44 ERA. Meanwhile, USF (13-7) only has five batters over .265 and a team ERA of 4.54, leaving the team with a difficult matchup against the Bears. 

Games 1 and 2 of the series showed the offensive capabilities of each team, but the last ended up in the hands of USF after yet another walk-off series win. 

USF 10, Mercer 2

Despite the Bears being one of USF’s toughest opponents this season, USF dominated at the plate and on the mound to take the first win of the series.

Redshirt junior pitcher Orion Kerkering took the Friday start after a solid outing against Bradley on March 11. In six innings pitched, he allowed four hits, one earned run and seven strikeouts. 

Mercer held a 1-0 lead for three innings, but the Bulls bounced back in the fourth to take a 5-1 lead. 

Redshirt sophomore outfielder Daniel Cantu began the rally with a two-RBI single followed by an RBI groundout from infielder Carmine Lane and a two-run home run to center field by sophomore outfielder Drew Brutcher. 

The Bulls continued to command the game offensively, including a home run from freshman outfielder Jackson Mayo. He has made a quick impact in the lineup with a .350 batting average. 

“Obviously, you got to take your lumps as a freshman, but he sees the ball, he takes good at bats, plays good defense, and he’s gonna be a really special player,” coach Billy Mohl said.

Mercer 14, USF 6

The roles were reversed Saturday when Mercer took control of the game with 17 hits and 14 earned runs, showing off its explosive offense. 

The Bears’ pitching staff was able to hold USF down for six innings, giving up just one run in the second. The strong pitching allowed the offense to rack up insurance runs in case the Bulls mounted a comeback. 

USF’s offense woke up in the seventh with a four-run inning, but it wasn’t enough to catch up to Mercer. The Bulls couldn’t recreate their performance from the day before in what turned to be an off-day for just about everyone.

“We didn’t play well,” Mohl said. “No hit through six innings. It took us to the seventh inning to get a hit. But the pitchers were not good. [On Saturday] I challenged those guys after the game, and you saw what they did [Sunday].” 

The Bears finished the day with a 14-6 win setting up a rubber match for Sunday’s game. 

USF 3, Mercer 2

For the second weekend in a row, the Bulls finished the series with a Sunday walk-off from Lane. Up until that final inning, though, USF looked grim.

After being held scoreless for eight frames, the Bulls tied the game 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Lane brought the last runner home with a single up the middle to pull off the stunning comeback.

“I was proud that the guys never gave up and we walked them off for the second Sunday in a row with Carmine getting a walk-off hit,” Mohl said.

It wasn’t just the rally of the hitters that helped secure the game, but it was also the efforts from the pitching staff. The work of sophomore Hunter Mink in particular kept Mercer’s offense relatively quiet all day.

Mink put in yet another great outing from the bullpen, allowing just one hit in 3.2 innings pitched. The transfer from Florida has contributed to five saves at USF so far. 

“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” he said. “The coaches are awesome, warm, welcoming, having me here. The guys trust me and I think that’s the best way to succeed is just have fun out here and I’m having fun doing it. I guess that’s the key to my success so far.”

USF will remain at home for a weekend series beginning Friday against Niagara at 6:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.