Yes, USF baseball leads nation in extra innings
USF baseball's amazing run since the start of April -- a 17-1 overall record, including 11 straight Big East wins -- is perhaps only trumped by the Bulls' uncanny ability to take games to extra innings and still prevail in such tight situations.
The Bulls have seven extra-inning games -- all wins -- in their last 12 games, a trend punctuated by Friday's 19-inning win at Notre Dame, which matched the longest game in Big East history and was said by USF to be the longest in Bulls history as well.
Crazy thing is, USF led the nation in innings per game BEFORE the 19-inning marathon, which was followed Saturday with a comparably quick and easy 10-inning win in South Bend. USF is averaging 9.67 innings per game -- a full 31 innings above the expected nine-inning average. Entering the weekend, the closest any other team out of 296 in Division I baseball was Rice, which was averaging 9.29 innings per game. To oversimplify, USF has played two entire games -- 18.1 innings -- more than the next-closest team in innings per game.
Big East teams, this season, have actually averaged exactly 9 innings per game, with extra innings perfectly offsetting games ended early by rain, or games where a losing team doesn't pitch in the bottom of the ninth. Many Division I teams average less than nine innings a game -- North Dakota, which seems to like doubleheaders with seven innings in each half, averages just 7.61 innings this season.
USF actually lost its first three extra-inning games of the season -- a pair of one-run losses at Florida International, then a 13-inning, 1-0 loss to Georgetown. Since then, they've gone to the 13th or later five times in three weeks, winning every time. The Bulls have turned themselves from an unremarkable 14-14 baseball team into a team now 31-15 and in position for USF's first NCAA regionals appearance in 11 years.
How is USF so extra good in extra innings? It starts with an unflinching bullpen -- in Friday's 19-inning win, three different Bulls relievers threw at last three innings of scoreless relief. The last two wins have obscured outstanding starts by USF's Jimmy Herget and Nick Gonzalez that ultimately go down as no-decisions.
The Bulls as a staff have a 2.37 ERA in Big East play, easily the best in the league. Herget has been dominating, but so have USF's relievers -- Steven Leasure (1.23 ERA), Lawrence Pardo (1.42) and Chad Taylor (1.46) are a combined 6-0 in conference. Even the pitcher with USF's highest Big East ERA is starter Joey Lovecchio, who is still 3-1 with a 4.13 ERA that is better than four Big East teams' staff ERAs in league play.
There's clutch hitting as well -- we'll carve up the numbers for USF's extra-inning success and have more later in the week.