Maglich lifts Bulls on dramatic opening night
On a crisp opening night at USF Baseball Stadium, the Bulls brandished heavy doses of precociousness, pop and plain ol' drama.
Polish will have to wait another evening.
Senior Luke Maglich's two-out, bases-loaded single down the first-base line in the bottom of the ninth clinched the Bulls' 11-10 triumph against Liberty before a raucous announced crowd of 1,075.
"Shoot, I don't know how you can be any more pleased than we are tonight," said second-year coach Mark Kingston, now 2-0 in USF openers.
Maglich's hit was USF's 18th of the night, and the Bulls needed every one of them to compensate for a handful of costly miscues in the field and on the mound.
Unveiling four freshman starters, the Bulls jumped out to a 6-0 lead after two innings, collecting all five of their second-inning runs with two out. The highlight was a two-run home run to left field by freshman third baseman David Villar (4-for-5), who came a triple shy of the cycle.
But Liberty, picked to finish third in the Big South Conference, rallied with two runs in the fourth, and tied the score an inning later on cleanup hitter Andrew Yacyk's two-out, first-pitch grand slam to left off Bulls starter Phoenix Sanders (six IP, seven hits, seven strikeouts, one walk).
Two errors preceded Yacyk's blast, making five of the Flames' first six runs unearned. USF answered with two runs in the bottom of the fifth off five hits, including consecutive doubles by sophomore 1B Duke Stunkel and freshman 3B Coco Montes to open the inning.
Liberty took a 9-8 lead in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on four hits off Bulls reliever Ryan Valdes, who allowed one of the runs with a wild pitch. But Villar's two-out double in the bottom of the inning set up sophomore Kevin Merrell's RBI-single to tie the score. Merrell finished 3-for-4 with two RBI.
Yacyk, who had two homers all of last season, then hit his second of the night -- a sharp blast to left with one out in the top of the ninth -- to give the Flames a 10-9 lead. In its first defining moment of the year, USF sent up Stunkel and two freshmen -- CF Garrett Zech and LF Chris Chatfield -- to start the bottom of the ninth.
"With a new team like this, that's a big moment," Kingston said. "Even if it's the first game, it's a big moment to see what is this team all about?"
Stunkel led off with a single before Zech struck out and Chatfield hit a deep fly to right that was snagged by outstretched RF Will Shepherd in arguably the defensive gem of the night. Villar then hit a two-out single, Merrell walked and Montes followed with a bases-loaded walk to tie the score and set up Maglich's heroics.
Maglich finished 3-for-6 with three RBI.
"We got out to that six-run lead and gave it up, and a lot of teams at that point can kind of go up and down, up and down," Kingston said. "I thought we stayed very calm, I thought we had good leadership in the dugout, and we came back, it's that simple. Nobody panicked, and that's how you have games like this."