South Florida baseball started off its opening weekend with a bang, but its fresh pitching staff went on to struggle against a composed No. 13 Maryland.
While USF (1-2) showed its dominance offensively, its overall performance highlighted the work that needs to be done in the bullpen. In three games against the Terrapins (2-1), the Bulls gave up three grand slams while throwing 14 arms on the mound.
After looking at Sunday’s final result, coach Billy Mohl said he knows his young pitching staff needs more experience.
“We came out and they scored, we scored, [redshirt junior first baseman Daniel] Cantu hit the homer. It’s going, then their [Maryland] guy kind of settled in. The big inning, the fourth inning, we go hit by pitch, hit, walk and grand slam. The free passes, all those grand slams. There are a couple of free passes in there,” Mohl said.
Here is how the Bulls performed each day this weekend:
After a one-two-three inning by redshirt junior pitcher Hunter Mink, sophomore infielder Bobby Boser put the Bulls on the board right away with a three-run shot over left-center field.
However, the Terrapins didn’t let that stop them from matching the score 3-3 in the top of the second with a solo homer and two back-to-back triple RBI.
It wasn’t long until USF surged past MU, bringing the score 8-3 with a combined effort from its lefty-heavy offense and steady pitching. That was until the Terrapins started their late-game rally at the top of the eighth for what would be their first grand slam of the series, making the score 8-7.
Redshirt junior Tanner Mink was able to keep his cool late in the game and protected USF’s lead, scratching the Bulls’ first win of the season over a high-ranked opponent. Mohl said he was proud of his team’s performance despite all the challenges the Terrapins brought to the table.
“Offense came out ready to play, we worked our way through some pitching things. Hunter was good, had the one bad inning, really two innings in that game. They had a big inning, three runs in the third and then they had the grand slam late but the team never quit,” Mohl said.
Saturday was a different story for USF, as it was unable to produce offensively to keep up with an MU scoring affair.
Maryland constructed a tight-knit pitching rotation on day two, recording a collective 11 strikeouts against the South Florida batting order. The Terrapins’ senior pitcher Nick Dean gave up just one hit and one walk in 20 at-bats.
MU’s offense also posed a challenge for the Bulls rotation, hitting its second grand slam of the series. The Terrapins remained consistent at the batter’s box, with eight hits and seven RBI against the six pitchers the Bulls put on the mound.
Mohl said he felt that a mixture of testing arms and Maryland’s pitching were the team’s downfalls in game two.
“Offense sputtered, the guy on the mound for them was pretty good, gave us fits. I thought [redshirt sophomore pitcher Nolan] Hudi was really good, but when we went to the bullpen it was freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman. Just trying to see what those guys can do. Especially when we were down already,” Mohl said.
Both the Bulls and Terrapins attempted to start things early in game three, but Maryland ended up victorious with an explosive offense to win the series.
In the first inning, USF looked like it was going to repeat Friday night’s performance at the plate as they led 2-1, but the Bulls went scoreless for five innings after.
In those five innings, Maryland was able to tag on an additional seven runs including its final grand slam from sophomore designated hitter Ian Petrutz in the top of the fifth.
At the bottom of the seventh, USF began to fabricate its own rally with a three-run homer from junior outfielder Drew Brutcher to trail MU 8-5. That was the last time the Bulls would reach home plate for the series.
There may have been a lot of sore spots in Sunday’s matchup, but Mohl was able to see some shining moments.
“[Freshman pitcher] Lawson Gailey was really good as a freshman, coming in bases loaded and then one of their best hitters got him, but then he settled in and gave us some nice quality work. I thought [junior pitcher] Jackson Cothren was good,” Mohl said.
“I thought Grause was just okay, he’s got to be better for us. Now we’re just gonna piece together and finish figuring out what roles guys deserve on the pitching staff.”
Regardless of the outcome, the opening weekend gave the Bulls the learning curve they needed in order to find their strengths as a team against a talented group.
Hunter said he knows the program needs to work on its pitching in order to prepare itself against its next opponents — No. 7 Florida and Florida Atlantic.
“I think it’s just executing pitches and big counts is what we need. That’s pretty much it, and throwing a lot of strikes,” Mink said.