Mende, Llerena sparked Bulls in final rally
It's hard to find offseason momentum from a season-ending loss, but as USF baseball searches for positives from a disappointing 2010 season, they'll point to the way the Bulls rallied from a 7-1 deficit to force extra innings against top-seeded Louisville on Friday night.
Down six runs during a sixth-inning rain delay, it would have been easy for the Bulls to phone in the final innings of their season. Instead, they battled, getting four runs in the eighth and an unlikely tying run with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth before ultimately falling 9-7 in 11 innings.
"It's probably the best baseball we've played all year," said shortstop Sam Mende, who had four hits, including a two-run home run in the eighth. "We've had ups and downs all year ... It's tough. I hate ending, especially doing it that way. ... I haven't seen attitudes like that since last year."
The tying run came off the bat of second baseman Luis Llerena, who went 4-for-6 on the night. Louisville closer Neil Holland had two strikeouts in the ninth and got to 0-2 on Llerena, who fought to a 3-2 count, then sent the ball over the wall in left-center -- his last home run came as a high school junior in 2006.
"I was just trying to get on base," Llerena said. "I got that fastball and tried to put a line-drive swing on it, and luckily it got out of the park."
Llerena said the rain delay gave the Bulls a chance to challenge themselves to get back into a game they hadn't really been in since Louisville jumped out 3-0 in the first inning.
"It shows a lot about the team," he said. "We said 'If we're going to go down, we're going to go down swinging.' I think we did that. We came back and battled, and I'm proud of the guys."
Said USF coach Lelo Prado: "He's been good for us all year. Ever since we put him in the lineup, he's really done a good job for us. He's the kind of kid who plays hard every day, and that's why good things happen to him."
Another star in USF's comeback was reliever Kevin Quackenbush, who pitched the longest stint of his Bulls career, keeping the Cardinals scoreless for five innings before giving up the home run in the 11th. A week earlier, he struck out eight batters in a four-inning appearance, getting the win in an extra-inning victory at Pittsburgh.
"Quackenbush pitched great," coach Lelo Prado said. "We just pitched awful in the beginning. Against great teams like this, early in the game, we walked too many guys. They're going to get you sooner or later."
Asked for his thoughts on the season, Prado first pointed to the injuries the Bulls have endured, but did so with a sense of having been capable of more, even with the depleted lineup.
"For me, disappointment," Prado said. "It's disappointing because we've had so many injuries and so many things happen to us, but we'll be back."