TAMPA ― Moments before one of the most critical games of their careers Saturday, 10 USF seniors were recognized with their families and presented framed jerseys.
But they couldn’t frame a favorable ending to the afternoon, or their careers.
With the eighth and final American Athletic Conference tournament berth at stake, Wichita State (26-29, 9-15) scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to escape USF Baseball Stadium with a 7-3 victory.
USF (26-27, 8-16) failed to qualify for its conference tournament for the first time since 2011, when it was in the Big East. The seniors who spent all four seasons at USF ― Chris Chatfield, Joe Genord, Garrett Zech and Tyler Dietrich ― end their careers with two NCAA regional berths.
But they’ll be spectators for a league tourney in their own back yard, Clearwater’s Spectrum Stadium.
“I thanked 'em for all the blood, sweat and tears they’ve put into this thing over the last four years,” second-year coach Billy Mohl said.
Shockers senior second baseman Luke Ritter essentially sealed USF’s fate in the ninth with a one-out, bases-loaded double down the left field line that scored three runs.
Before that, the Shockers had loaded the bases off Bulls closer Nelson Alvarez with a single and two walks. With one out, pinch-hitter Alex Jackson hit a sharp grounder to first, but Genord’s low throw to home plate barely got away from Dietrich, enabling a run to score.
“That’s Nelson for you, it kinda comes and goes,” Mohl said. “But in that situation with their best guys up, we wanted our best guy in there. A ground ball, a foot away from being out of it, and it got down the line.”
USF led 3-0 after five innings, thanks primarily to Jordan Santos’ two-out, two-run double in the fifth, but left nine base runners stranded for the game. They loaded the bases in the first, but managed only one run when Julio Cortez drew a bases-loaded walk.
Meantime, Bulls right-handed starter Alec Wisely allowed only two hits through the first five innings before surrendering an RBI-single to Ritter and two-run home run to senior Mason O’Brien on consecutive pitches in the sixth.
“There were numerous times we bunted a guy into scoring position and did nothing with it,” said Mohl, whose club managed only four hits off six Wichita State pitchers.
“Credit their pitchers. They made good pitches when they had to, but we had them on the ropes numerous times and failed to come through.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.