USF bounced from Big East with 2-1 loss to Rutgers
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- For USF baseball coach Lelo Prado, Friday's 2-1 loss to Rutgers, eliminating the Bulls from the Big East tournament, was a microcosm of the final stretch of USF's season.
"The door's open. You've got to take advantage of it. You've got to finish the job," Prado said. "We haven't been able to finish the last two years when the door was wide-open. ... We've got to get to that point where we go through that door and finish the job. We can't be satisfied with this. I keep saying it. You just can't."
USF (36-22) had a shot in the ninth, getting a leadoff single from Alex Mendez and advancing him to second on a sacrifice bunt by James Ramsay. But Jimmy Falla struck out for the second out, and Chris Norton grounded out to second to end the game and the Bulls' season.
Two weeks ago, the Bulls were in position for the program's first NCAA regionals appearance since 2002, but USF was swept in three games at Seton Hall. The Bulls took two of three from the same Rutgers team last week, then beat the Scarlet Knights on Wednesday night, but that momentum was lost in the last two nights.
On Thursday, the Bulls had a 7-0 lead against Connecticut, only to see the Huskies rally back for an 8-7 win on a bases-loaded wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. On Friday, the Bulls got strong pitching from starter Joey Lovecchio, but couldn't produce at the plate, getting just five hits and a single run.
On Friday night, Mendez had stopped Rutgers from scoring its first run, gunning down a runner at the plate after a single in the fourth. Charlie O'Grady followed with an RBI double for a 1-0 lead. After being held hitless the first three innings, USF answered with three hits in the fourth, and Blake Sydeski's two-out single scored Buddy Putnam, who had started a two-out rally.
Rutgers was back ahead in the bottom of the fifth, getting an RBI groundout from Vinny Zarrillo after a Matt Tietz single and Nick Favatella double. Bulls reliever Janick Serralonga pitched 2.1 innings of one-hit scoreless relief to keep USF within a run, and Chad Taylor got the final out in the eighth to set up the final inning.
"I'm proud of our seniors. They fought hard all year. This team, when we were 14-14, everybody wrote us off and we made a great run," Prado said.
Rutgers (28-29) advances to Saturday's play, where the Scarlet Knights will need to beat Connecticut twice to advance to Sunday's final. Pittsburgh will need to beat Notre Dame twice in the other semifinal, putting the tournament's bottom two seeds in the best position to meet in the championship game.