Struggling USF stuns top-seeded East Carolina in AAC tournament opener

For the second time in three years, the USF baseball team has found postseason mojo in the wake of regular season mediocrity.

Down by six runs after seven innings of its American Athletic Conference tournament opener Tuesday against top-seeded East Carolina, USF (20-37) rallied for an 11-inning, 12-11 upset at Clearwater’s BayCare Ballpark.

Only three days after the Pirates (41-16) completed a three-game sweep of USF in Tampa, the Bulls matched a season-high with 19 hits and totaled eight unanswered runs in the eighth and ninth innings.

“That was a marathon, but I’m really proud of the heart our guys showed to pull that out,” said embattled Bulls coach Billy Mohl, whose team faces UCF in a winners-bracket game Thursday at 1 p.m. “This season obviously hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to, and there were multiple chances in that game for our guys to phone it in, but they refuse to quit.”

The triumph elicited memories of the Bulls’ improbable 2021 tournament run on the same field. Seeded sixth with a 24-26 record, the Bulls went 4-1 in the double-elimination event over six days to win the championship and clinch an NCAA Tournament berth that ended with a super regional appearance in Austin, Texas.

Trailing 9-5 entering the ninth inning Tuesday, the Bulls opened with three consecutive singles to set up junior Ben Rozenblum’s two-run base hit to centerfield. Jackson Mayo, Travis Sankovich, Eric Snow and Drew Brutcher followed with run-scoring singles to give USF an 11-9 lead.

East Carolina tied the score on Josh Moylan’s two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth. Brutcher then gave USF the lead for good with a one-out RBI-single in the top of the 11th. Senior left-hander Ethan Brown held the Pirates scoreless in the last two innings to help seal the victory.

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