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USF beats Pitt, stays alive

Posted May 25, 2012 by Joey Johnston

Updated May 25, 2012 at 12:15 AM

CLEARWATER – Staying alive.

The University of South Florida Bulls accomplished that mission on Thursday night. They defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers 12-5 in the Big East Conference baseball tournament at Bright House Field – under some difficult circumstances.

“It was a good win,’’ USF coach Lelo Prado said. “It was also a pretty long day.’’

Before lightning and rain entered the area, causing a delay of three hours, 38 minutes, No. 4-seeded USF (35-21) had raced to a 6-0 third-inning lead against the No. 8 Panthers in an elimination game. USF momentum continued after the delay as the Bulls added three more runs, sending 13 total batters up in the inning.

Prado said his players spent some of the rain delay watching the Miami Heat’s Game 6 clinching victory against the Indiana Pacers – “Half of our team is from Miami, so they were excited’’ – and were in a relaxed state of mind despite the inactivity.

“We swung the bats well,’’ Prado said. “That’s the way I expect us to swing the bats. We got up (before the rain delay) and I was certainly more relaxed. Then we came back out and kept swinging the bats, so that was a good thing.’’

USF advanced into another elimination game tonight at 6. USF meets the loser between No. 1 Louisville and No. 5 Connecticut, which saw their Thursday nightcap pushed into this morning at 11. Thursday’s rain made for a long USF night, but it might work into the Bulls’ favor tonight.

Either way, USF will face a team that is playing its second game of the day. Louisville is well-positioned this morning with ace right-hander Justin Amlung (8-3, 2.16 ERA), the Big East pitcher of the year, ready for duty. So the Bulls, who were placed into a continual a must-win situation at the double-elimination event after dropping their Wednesday night opener against UConn 7-2, could be facing the Huskies again.

“It’s eight great teams and you’re going to get a great game no matter who you play,’’ USF center fielder James Ramsay said.

“We’ve just got to keep winning, keep fighting,’’ Prado said. “One game at a time. You can’t look beyond the next game.’’

Tonight, the Bulls will start senior left-hander Matt Reed (4-3, 2.92), a weekday starter who developed into a more prominent role as the season progressed.

“I’m glad for this win (against Pittsburgh) because I wanted to get Matt a game,’’ Prado said. “He deserves a game. He has done a great job for us.’’

Prado was able to preserve relievers Nick Gonzalez and Austin Adams, so the Bulls have a reasonably well-stocked bullpen heading into tonight’s game.

USF’s Thursday night starter was right-hander Derrick Stultz (8-1), a second-team All-Big East selection, who worked two scoreless innings. Stultz was removed following the lengthy delay for right-hander Joey Lovecchio, who allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings. Jannick Serrallong, a left-hander who had made only six previous appearances, pitched the final 2 2/3 innings.

The Bulls’ staff received ample support during USF’s eight-run third inning, when the first nine batters reached base. Luis Llerena and Zac Gilcrease each had two-run singles, while Ramsay added a two-run double. Jimmy Falla also produced an RBI double. Overall, Pittsburgh (28-28) aided USF’s effort by committing six errors.

The Bulls had 12 hits, highlighted by the performances of Falla (3-for-5 with three RBIs) and Ramsay (2-for-4 with two RBIs).

Although weather prevented Stultz from a longer stint, he considered it another chapter in a successful comeback season. Stultz, a Wharton High School product, missed two full seasons with elbow and shoulder injuries before re-emerging this year.

“Times were hard,’’ Stultz said before the game. “I was out of the game for a long time. So this season had a lot of meaning for me. Any kid’s dream, and mine in particular, is to play baseball. I didn’t want to give up on that dream.

“I think this has taught me how to face adversity. It made me into the person I am today. Everybody thought I was done, but I came back and helped this team. Just coming back and contributing to this season, it has meant the world to me.’’

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