TAMPA — University of South Florida junior right-hander Phoenix Sanders was back on his game in a series opening win over University of Central Florida on Friday night at the USF Baseball Stadium. Sanders was dominant throughout and held the rival Kinghts to two hits over eight innings and struck out 12 and the Bulls shutout the Knights 4-0. Bulls closer Tommy Eveld followed Sanders in the ninth with with some domination of his own, recording three strikeouts to secure the win.
Sanders was coming off a stretch of games where he had given up where he was “un-Phoenix like“, surrendering 15 runs in his last three starts.
“Phoenix was back to Phoenix tonight. His breaking ball was sharp again, he held his velocity late and he had very good command at the bottom of the strike zone,” said USF head baseball coach Mark Kingston.
Sanders agreed and felt in control early.
“Usually I’m a rhythm guy, so once I get going in the first, if I can get comfortable or in the zone, throw off-speed for strikes usually it’ll go pretty well.” said Sanders.
Offensively the Bulls were helped by the return of Kevin Merrell who had two hits, scored a run, and had an RBI. Duke Stunkel Jr. continued his hot streak with two hits of his own, an RBI and two runs scored and has now hit safely in 14 of the last 15 games, raising his average to .287 over that stretch. Senior Luke Maglich also had two hits and an RBI.
I written frequently about the youth of the Bulls showing up at in-opportune times this season. Tonight the Bulls gave their fans a glimpse of what is to come for USF baseball. Solid pitching, solid defense and timely hitting. They were sharp and crisp in all facets of the game.
Kevin Merrell returned from a wrist injury and resumed his role a catalyst at the top of the order. The Bulls just seem like a different team with Merrell in the lineup.
“You want to have a combination of some productive veterans, combined with the young players. We have had to have probably too many young players for the majority of the year, but on the nights when we have Maglich and Merrell, and its been a long time since we had both in the line-up, and sprinkle in the young guys, we are pretty darn good,”said Kingston. “No doubt Merrell sparked us tonight.”
Add Duke Stunkel Jr to the list of players that have hit their stride in the second half of the season. His confidence at the plate during the stretch is noticeable, hitting the ball hard consistently.
“He’s developed very nicely this year. He has become a much more patient hitter, and his swing has really improved as the season has gone on. He is an important guy for us.”said Kingston.