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TAMPA – Numerous comeback attempts fell short on Saturday, as USF dropped a 10-6 final to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Senior Day at the USF Baseball Stadium. The Bulls took two of three in the series, and will be the No. 4 seed in the Big East Conference Tournament.
USF (35-20, 17-7) fell behind early in the regular-season finale, and could not thwart off the Rutgers offense as the Scarlet Knights (26-28, 14-10) continued to tack on throughout the game. Rutgers got to Bulls senior starter Joey Lovecchio (5-5) for three runs on five hits in just two innings.
The Bulls got one back in the second. After back-to-back strikeouts opened the inning, Anthony Diaz battled his way to a nine-pitch walk off Rutgers starter Rob Corsi. That kept the inning alive for Levi Borders, who dropped a single into right-center, and Nik Alfonso followed with a base hit through the left side to cut the deficit to 3-1.
The Rutgers lead shrank again in the third, when Jimmy Falla singled with one out and later scored on Blake Sydeski’s RBI single to right.
Corsi lasted four innings for the Scarlet Knights, permitting two runs on six hits. The senior lefty did not factor in the decision.
With Lovecchio done after two, the Bulls called upon midweek starter Mike Clarkson. The right-hander worked around some trouble to throw two scoreless frames before Jeff Melillo opened the fifth with a blast over the wall in left-center, his second homer in as many days. That extended the Rutgers lead to 4-2.
The Scarlet Knights added another with a run off Adrian Puig, but the Bulls kept it close with a run of their own off Jon Young (3-1) in the home half. Falla and Sydeski singles placed men at the corners with one out, and a wild pitch allowed Falla to come in and score the third USF run of the day.
An error opened the door for Rutgers to break it open in the seventh. With two down and a runner at first, a ground ball to Kyle Teaf resulted in the sophomore shortstop firing high over the head of Falla at first, and the ball bounced out of play to allow the runners to take second and third. After a walk loaded the bases, Vinny Zarillo brought them all around with a double to give Rutgers the 8-3 lead.
Down 9-3 after the Scarlet Knights added another in the eighth, the Bulls mounted a final rally. Two singles, a hit batsman, and a Teaf RBI single started the frame. Alex Mendez came up with the bases loaded and delivered a sacrifice fly to right, and after James Ramsay reached on an infield hit, Falla greeted closer Tyler Gebbler with a single to make it 9-6.
USF had the bases loaded - with the tying run at first – for Chris Norton, but the senior hit a grounder back to the hill that resulted in a 1-2-3 double play to end the rally.
Mendez took over on the hill in the ninth, and would allow his first earned run of the year. Gebbler then set the Bulls down in order in the last of the ninth, notching his third save.
The loss for USF was just its first at home in Big East conference play. Overall, the Bulls wrapped up the year with a 25-5 record at the USF Baseball Stadium.
Nine senior were honored in an on-field ceremony before the game - Lovecchio, Mendez, Falla, Norton, Diaz, and Puig, along with Kyle Copack, Chad Taylor, and Steven Leasure.
USF earned the No. 4 seed heading into the Big East Conference tournament, and will be facing a familiar foe in the opening round. Rutgers will be the No. 5 seed, and the two teams will square off at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.