CLEARWATER, Fla. – Mike Maroth was the busiest man in Clearwater on Thursday afternoon. The UCF pitching coach, a former Knights pitcher, and major leaguer who returned to his alma mater this year, wore a path to the mound in the fifth inning to remove four pitchers in the space of five batters.
While those in attendance were likely wishing the MLB rule requiring a new pitcher to face at least three batters had been instituted at the collegiate level, the USF dugout was enjoying every minute of the prolonged inning. After all, the Bulls sent 11 batters to the plate, banged out four hits and took advantage of three walks and a hit batter to score seven runs to take a 9-2 lead in what would be a 15-4 eight-inning mercy-rule win.
The Bulls, who overcame a six-run deficit to defeat top seed and No. 15 East Carolina, 12-11 in 11 innings Tuesday afternoon, find themselves one win away from advancing to the American Athletic Conference championship game Sunday.
It is an unlikely scenario for a team that went 19-37 in the regular season, including 7-17 in the American to finish last in what is the final year of it being an eight-team baseball conference.
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“Our guys continue to put quality at-bats together at the plate, battle with two strikes, and hand the baton to the next guy,” said coach Billy Mohl. “The approach isn’t something new that we haven’t taught all year, but you’re seeing it click. Every hit, you see the confidence build, the energy grow, and it’s contagious. We’re playing loose and having fun right now.”
Memories of 2021 abound. Indeed, it was just two years ago USF went 24-26 in the regular season before getting hot at the right time. The Bulls won their last two regular season games, won the tourney and advanced to the NCAA Super Regional where they lost twice at Texas.
First things first, though, and that is the Bulls must pick up the win they need in order to advance to the championship game. Mohl’s team will have a chance to do so beginning 9 a.m. Saturday against either UCF or East Carolina. A loss would mean a second game Saturday, against either the Knights or Pirates, in the double-elimination tourney.
Ben Rozenblum, who had a two-run single in the fifth, went 3-for-4, drew a walk, drove in three runs and scored three times for the Bulls, who had 19 hits to equal their season high from 48 hours earlier. Eric Snow, who capped the fifth-inning scoring with a bases-clearing double, drove in four runs. Designated hitter Rafael Bethancourt went 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBI.
Righthander Austin Grause (1-2) picked up his first career win after allowing two hits and one run while striking out four in three innings in relief of starter Lawson Gailey.
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