USF loses its lead in first matchup of AAC Championship

Sophomore catcher Nelson Rivera (center) hit his first career grand slam and gave the Bulls a fighting chance against ECU. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Sitting at the bottom of the conference, USF baseball lost 7-4 against No. 23 East Carolina on Tuesday. 

The regular-season champion Pirates (39-14, AAC 20-4) have dominated the conference with skill overcoming every sector of their team. Their overall batting average is up to a .277 and the ECU bullpen houses the conference pitcher of the year.

What could have been the beginning of a Bulls (28-28, AAC 8-16) underdog run was quickly taken away by an unstable pitching staff. 

Redshirt junior Brad Lord started the game for the Bulls, and in his 3.2 innings of work he gave the Pirates their first three runs to begin their lead against South Florida. 

In an effort to recover, redshirt freshman Nolan Hudi was brought in to hold down East Carolina and give the offense a fighting chance. 

He threw 1.1 innings with one strikeout and gave the Bulls the push they needed. In the top of the sixth, sophomore catcher Nelson Rivera gave the team a 4-3 lead after a grand slam over the left field wall.

However, things quickly took a turn in the next half inning. Redshirt junior Orion Kerkering came in relief and the Pirates got their revenge over the southpaw with another grand slam in return, giving them a 7-4 lead. 

Now losing one game in the tournament, the Bulls will have to fight hard for the remainder of the week to not face double elimination.

South Florida will need to pitch a cleaner game to stand a chance against Tulane, which has a team batting average of .270, and show a fiery offense to put pressure early on rather than their usual late rallies. 

The Bulls will play their second game of the AAC Baseball Championship on Wednesday at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater against Tulane at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.