TAMPA — USF senior Luke Maglich ripped a base hit down the right field line with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Bulls an 11-10 walk off win over the Liberty Flames in the season opener for both teams before an enthusiastic crowd at USF Baseball Stadium.
Maglich ended his night going 3-for-6 with three RBI. Kevin Merrell went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. The two teams combined for 31 hits and 21 runs.
The Bulls jumped out to a 6-0 lead after two innings and the game had the look of a blowout, after Liberty starter Carson Herndon left the game after 1.2 innings.
Liberty battled back with six runs of their own with two runs in the third and four in the fourth, on a monster grand slam by Flames DH Andrew Yacyk. Five of the six runs were unearned as the Bulls committed two errors.
After the Bulls took an 8-6 lead in the fifth, the Flames fought back with a three-run seventh inning and took a 9-8 lead on a two-out single by Dalton Britt.
The Bulls tied the game in the home half of the inning with an RBI single by Merrell.
Yacyk ripped his second home run the night to give the Flames a 10-9 lead in the top of the ninth.
After loading the bases and with two out Coco Montes drew a walk forcing in Merrill with the tying run and setting up the heroics by Magalich.
“When you have an offense that doesn’t give away pitches, doesn’t give away at-bats, you have a chance at the end and that’s what we did,” said USF head coach Mark Kingston. They earned my confidence tonight with how they were approaching their at-bats,” Kingston said. “At that point, I just said keep swinging the bats, trust the hitters and great things will happen for us.”
“With a new team like this, it’s a big moment to see what this team is all about,” Kingston said. Nobody panicked and that’s how you have games like this.”
USF right-hander and red shirt junior Phoenix Sanders gave the Bulls six workman like innings, allowing seven hits, six runs, just one earned. He struck out 7 and walked one and left the game with a chance to get the win.
USF started four freshman, David Villar, Garrett Zech, Robert “Coco” Montes and Chris Chatfield, against Liberty and all had moments that validated why this was a top 10 recruiting class in the country. Villar went 4-for-5 and hit a two-run homer in his first college at-bat. Zech had an RBI and scored two runs. Montes had two hits and an RBI with a base loaded two walk in the ninth inning.
Chatfield had a hit in five at bats. The ball comes off his bat as hot as you will see form anyone and it will interesting to watch how he progresses in his first season in D1 college baseball.
“They are good players and they have all worked hard since the first day they got on campus. It’s a long season, but you saw a glimpse of why everybody is so excited,” Kingston said.
Kevin Merrell just about has a permanent spot in the game notes section. You would be hard pressed to find another player you would want in a clutch situation for the Bulls. The game looks easy to him and frankly I love watching him play.
While the crowd was announced at 1075, they got be be a raucous bunch late in the game. This will be a fun team to watch and one that deserves support.
Liberty DH Andrew Yacyk put on a show during batting practice, depositing ball after ball over the fence in left-field. His penchant for the long ball carried over into the game, with three hits, including two home runs and six RBI.
Curiously, the 6′ 3” 240 lb junior hit just two home runs on all of the 2015 season in 55 games. Some things just cant be explained. He will eclipse that total in 2016, perhaps by the end of the weekend.
Let give credit where credit is due. Both teams fought throughout. USF and Liberty will win some of these kinds of games and they will likely lose a few as well, but don’t expect neither team to go down without a fight.