CLEARWATER, Fla. – Designated hitter Stanley Paul scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning, capping Connecticut’s comeback from a 7-0 deficit and giving the Huskies an 8-7 win against USF Thursday night in the Big East Baseball Championship at Bright House Field.
The win sends the Huskies to the semifinal round of the tournament for the fifth consecutive season. It capped a wild first two days of the Big East Championship that sees the tournament’s No. 7 and No. 8 seeds – Notre Dame and UConn – as the only unbeaten teams remaining, while the top six seeds are either eliminated or sitting with one loss.
Connecticut will not play again until Saturday, when it will face the winner of Friday’s elimination game between USF and Rutgers.
USF built a 7-0 lead through four-and-a-half innings, but the Huskies answered with six in the bottom of the fifth and a single run in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game. The Bulls were undone by three errors, three wild pitches and a hit batsman.
The Huskies got the game-winning run after Paul’s hard line drive to lead off the inning could not be handled by the rightfielder, putting Paul at second with no outs. Tom Verdi’s bid to bunt Paul to third was snagged in the air by the third baseman, but Paul ended up taking third on a wild pitch nonetheless. The Bulls intentionally walked Billy Ferriter and L.J. Mazzilli to load the bases, but Jordan Strittmatter’s 0-2 pitch to Vinny Siena sailed wide, allowing Paul to score and end the game.
USF threatened to run away with the game early as the Bulls scratched single runs in the first two innings before adding four in the top of the fourth to take a 6-0 lead. Nik Alfonso hit an RBI double in the top of the fifth to push the margin to 7-0 through four-and-a-half innings, but Connecticut came back with six runs in the bottom of the fifth to get back in it.
After Alfonso put the Bulls ahead by seven in the top of the fifth, the Huskies came back with a two-out rally in the bottom of the inning. Two walks and a hit batsman loaded the bases for Ferriter, who roped a two-run single to right-center. Mazzilli followed with an infield hit that brought in Verdi and Siena’s shot to center was misplayed in the outfield, allowing two more runs to come in. Siena came on to score on a wild pitch to close the gap to 7-6, setting the stage for the Huskies’ late heroics.
Ferriter and Siena both went 2-for-4 for UConn, while reliever David Mahoney (2-2) – the sixth pitcher employed by the Huskies – was credited with the win after he worked 2.2. scoreless innings.
USF’s top four hitters were a combined 9-for-17. Alex Mendez and Jimmy Falla were both 2-for-4 with two RBI for the Bulls, while Strittmatter (0-1) was saddled with the loss after allowing the unearned run.