Strike 1: Bulls lose opener at Louisville, 2-1
USF baseball, needing one win in three games to clinch a share of the Big East regular-season crown, lost its series opener at second-place Louisville on Thursday night, falling 2-1.
The Bulls (32-21) now have just a half-game lead on Louisville with two games remaining. USF, held in check most of the night by Cardinals ace Justin Marks, rallied in the ninth but came up 90 feet short.
Junior Carlin singled to open the ninth, and after Brandon Smith reached on an error, the Bulls got an RBI groundout from Stephen Hunt. That cut the lead to 2-1 and put pinch-runner Mike Consolmagno at third with two outs and freshman Sam Mende at the plate. Reliever Gabriel Shaw struck out Mende to end the game and keep Louisville's hopes of a regular-season title alive.
Marks, making a case for Big East Pitcher of the Year, held USF scoreless in his 7.2 innings, giving up just four hits and striking out 12 Bulls. USF opted to rest ace Randy Fontanez to make sure he was fully rested for Tuesday's opener in the Big East tournament. Starter Derrick Stultz wasn't bad, giving up two runs on five hits in his five innings; reliever Kevin Quackenbush didn't allow a hit in three scoreless innings.
The Bulls will turn to junior Shawn Sanford on Friday night, getting a second shot at the win they need to have the top seed in next week's conference tournament in Clearwater.