TAMPA ― The USF baseball team is one more defeat from the longest offseason this side of the Lightning.
Wichita State sophomore Paxton Wallace’s fifth-inning grand slam enabled the Shockers (25-28, 8-14) to escape USF Baseball Stadium with a 7-6 victory against the Bulls (25-26, 7-15) in the teams’ quest-for-Clearwater series.
The winner of this three-game set earns the final spot in next week’s eight-team American Athletic Conference tournament at Clearwater’s Spectrum Stadium. The Bulls haven’t failed to qualify for their conference tourney since 2011, when they were in the Big East.
They’re one game from elimination, thanks to Wallace’s blast that broke things open.
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To that point, Bulls right-handed starter Baron Stuart (4-3) had been mostly crisp, allowing only two hits through the first three innings before the Shockers managed an unearned run in the fourth.
He allowed a pair of singles to open the fifth before No. 3 batter Luke Ritter stroked a one-out RBI-single to left field. After Stuart hit Mason O’Brien on a 3-2 pitch, Wallace sent the first pitch he saw to left center field, giving the Shockers a 6-1 lead.
Meantime, Wichita State right-handed starter Clayton McGinness (6-4) held the Bulls mostly in check, allowing two runs on five hits in seven innings.
The top four batters in the Bulls’ order went a combined 1-for-13 against the 6-foot-1 senior, who tossed a complete game against nationally ranked East Carolina last weekend.
But his bullpen nearly rendered his 110-pitch effort moot.
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The Shockers needed four relievers to make it through the eighth, when the Bulls rallied for four runs on two hits, an error and three walks. Catcher Tyler Dietrich (3-for-4) had a two-run single; and center fielder Kyle Phillips followed with a two-out, two-run double to pull USF within a run.
Right-hander Mitchell Walters, Wichita State’s fifth pitcher of the night, earned a four-out save. He hit No. 3 batter Joe Genord with one out in the ninth before registering consecutive strikeouts to end the game.
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.