As Carson Cross walked off the mound in the eighth inning with a 6-3 lead after yet another stellar start. The senior right-hander looked to be in line for his seventh win as sophomore Pat Ruotolo, who had yet to surrender a hit or run all season, entered the game.
Buddy Putnam had something different in mind.
Last week’s Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week kept his bat hot by smashing a three-run home run in the top of eighth, completing South Florida’s comeback from a 6-2 deficit to take game one of the three-game series with a 9-6 win at J.O. Christian Field.
“What we’re trying to do there is bury a breaking ball, and Pat doesn’t throw a lot of them; he hasn’t had to,” head coach Jim Penders said. “But that kid really timed up his fastball, I thought he was cheating to get to it, and then he guessed right. You don’t have to guess right when the ball was hung, it wasn’t really hung, it was just up.”
The home run spoiled yet another excellent performance from Cross. In his first home start since 2013, the Exeter, New Hampshire native went 7.1 innings, surrendering one earned run and scattering four hits while striking out eight. Over his last five starts, Cross owns a 0.71 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 38 innings.
“He’s been our most consistent guy, there’s no doubt about it,” Penders said of his captain. “He’s just such a leader out there, and it’s great to give him the ball on Friday and you know what you’re getting.”
The Huskies jumped out to their 6-2 with a five run frame in the bottom of the sixth in which UConn sent 10 batters to the plate. After Max McDowell was hit by a pitch, he advanced from first to third on an errant pickoff throw by Jimmy Herget. Bryan Daniello then singled home McDowell to make it a 2-2 game.
Willy Yahn and Daniello perfectly executed the hit and run in the next at bat, as Yahn stroked a base hit to center while Daniello wheeled from first to third. Later on, Yahn went to steal second, but stopped halfway, forcing USF catcher Levi Borders to make a decision. Borders let Yahn take second, and tried to throw out Daniello at third, but his throw sailed high and Daniello scored to give UConn the 3-2 lead.
“The steal and stop was executed really well,” Penders said. “Unconventionally we scored on that, we scored on that, we forced an error from the catcher.”
After chasing Bulls ace Jimmy Herget off the mound with the bases loaded, Michael Farley walked in a run when he walked Bobby Melley, and then surrendered the final two runs of the innings on a double from Blake Davey.
When Ruotolo entered to relieve Cross with one out in the eighth, he made quick work of his first batter, striking Kyle Teaf out looking. After walking Kevin Merrell, Ruotolo surrendered his first hit of the season to Levi Borders to put runners on first and second, setting the stage for Putnam’s go-ahead home run. The runs from Putnam’s three-run blast were the first he’s surrendered all season, raising his ERA to 7.53.
Despite the heart-wrenching loss, Penders knows his team can’t carry this over into game two of the series as the team looks to avoid losing the series, something they haven’t done since being swept in their season opening series against Florida Atlantic.
“We have to bounce back tomorrow, it can’t bother us going into tomorrow,” Penders said.
Friday’s game will be played at 3 p.m. at the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough, Massachusetts because of expected inclement weather. On Saturday, the Huskies return to J.O. Christian Field to finish the series at 1 p.m. Both games can be heard on 91.7 WHUS FM.