TAMPA – The formula for winning games for the University of South Florida baseball team in 2017 has been simple. Get a lead, turn the game over to the bullpen, game over. That was not the case last night at the USF Baseball Stadium against the University of Central Florida.
Behind 4-2 the in the ninth the Knights scored two runs to send the game into extra innings where the Bulls were able to pick up the walk off win when Luke Borders delivered a run scoring single in the bottom of the eleventh inning and South Florida won the opening game of the American Conference series 5-4.
“We just didn’t panic,” Bulls coach Mark Kingston said. “Good teams, they take their punches. We took a gut punch there. We have what I think is the best closer in the country (Andrew Perez) . Gave up two runs, very atypical for him. But the guys had his back.”
USF starter Phoenix Sanders got a no decision after tossing six solid innings, allowing two runs on three hits and striking out five. For UCF, Robby Howell went five innings and allowed three runs on three hit, and walked six, He struck out five.
Besides his heroics in the 11th Borders has three hits and two RBI, scoring twice including a home run in the seventh that gave the Bulls a 4-2 at the time. Kevin Merrell drew four walks including an intentional pass in the 11th, that eventually set up Borders for the game winner.
Eli Putnam and Kyle Marsh each had two hits for the Knights.
Coming into the game UCF Friday Night starter had issued 10 walks on the season and walked six USF Bulls in the game. Howell featured a fast ball that was 90-91 and delivered his pitches with multiple arm angles, making them tough to pick up. Credit USF hitters for their patience. Howell will win his share of games for the Knights on Friday nights. The Knights bullpen also came into the contest nearly untouchable for the season and through 5 2/3 innings of relief pitched very well allowing just two runs.
UCF catcher Logan Heiser was charged with his first passed ball for the season, a remarkable stat in and of itself.
USF right-hander Joe Cavallaro returned to form with two stellar innings of work allowing just one hit and striking out four. Senior Mark Savarese had another good night and picked up the win
The Bulls lost three base runners to pick offs and a caught stealing. Additionally three wild pitches proved to be costly. Coach Kingston refereed to some things that needed to be cleaned up and had those moments in mind.
After having seen the Knights over the past four seasons, this team appears to be a different kind of club. They play loose and with a lot of energy and will be a big factor in the American Conference.
The knock nationally for USF has been beating quality teams. The Bulls got a good win last night against a quality team. They will have another opportunity tonight sending Shane McClanahan to the mound against Juan Pimentel. UCF has the same opportunity.