CLEARWATER — Down to its last strike of the season, USF rallied to tie top-seeded Louisville in the bottom of the ninth Friday night, only to see the two-time defending Big East champions prevail 9-7 with a two-run homer by Stewart Ijames in the 11th inning.
The Bulls (26-32) were eliminated from the conference tournament at Bright House Field.
USF trailed 7-1 before a 53-minute rain delay in the sixth inning, then rallied for four runs in the eighth, two on a home run by Clearwater's Sam Mende.
Second baseman Luis Llerena, down 0-2 and facing the last strike of the season, worked the count full, then sent a shot over the leftfield wall to tie the score with his first home run of the year.
Reliever Kevin Quackenbush, who pitched five scoreless innings after the delay, came back out in the 11th, only to give up Ijames's homer. Llerena, who went 4-for-6, had another chance in the bottom of the 11th but struck out to end the game.
Louisville (48-11) must beat fourth-seeded St. John's twice today — first game at 1 p.m. — to reach Sunday's championship.
Facing his old team for the first time this year, USF coach Lelo Prado dropped to 2-8 against the Cardinals since joining the Bulls in 2007.
USF (26-32) closed a frustrating season, plagued by injuries and inconsistent play. The Bulls finished with a losing record for the first time under Prado.
Ryan Wright and Phil Wunderlich combined for six hits and five RBIs for Louisville.
USF had hoped to start senior left-hander Teddy Kaufman, who hadn't pitched in more than a month due to a forearm injury. Kaufman started to throw before the game but was scratched, with right-hander Jimmy Moran getting the start instead.
Moran walked two of the first three batters, then gave up an RBI single to Wright and a double to Wunderlich, and USF trailed 3-0 after one inning.
UCONN 7, PITT 2: The No. 2 seed Huskies ousted the No. 3 Panthers, getting a 4-for-4 game from Pierre LePage as part of a 16-hit attack. Pittsburgh (38-18) had 13 hits and five walks but left 12 runners on base. Connecticut (45-13) must beat No. 6 Rutgers twice starting with today's 10 a.m. semifinal to reach the final.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346.