By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
ST. PETERSBURG - The USF baseball season opener was special to say the least.
Todd Brazeal went 4-for-4 and Ray Delphey capped off a stellar performance by the Bulls' pitching staff in a 5-3 victory over Ohio State on Friday in the opening game of the Big Ten-Big East Challenge.
"We're happy with our guys. It was a great win for us," head coach Lelo Prado said.
Brazeal played in his first game since having ACL surgery, as did Delphey, who pitched off a mound in game action for the first time in nearly two years after numerous arm injuries.
Daniel Rockhold went 1-for-5 with an RBI while proudly wearing No. 63 in honor of Lee Roy Selmon. The jersey will be passed around each game this season to pay tribute to the former USF Athletic Director.
"Just to have the opportunity to wear it in memory of him, and for them to ask me to be the first one, is an honor for me," Rockhold said. "It's remarkable that they would even think of me in the running for that. I'm blessed to have had the opportunity."
Selmon would have been proud of the way the Bulls earned the victory, too.
Ohio State gave USF numerous chances to break out on offense and the Bulls seized the opportunities.
Alex Mendez singled through the right side in the top half of the third inning and came all the way around to score after Rockhold hit a grounder to third and Brad Hallberg sailed his throw to first for a costly error.
The Buckeyes played a big hand in giving up three more runs in the fourth. Ohio State starter Brett McKinney walked Brazeal and Buddy Putnam to begin the inning and Matt Hart followed with a bloop RBI single to center field.
McKinney walked another and exited the game with the bases loaded and two outs. Reliever Jaron Long's first pitch hit Mendez to make the score 3-0 and Rockhold drove in the Bulls' final run of the inning with a single through the hole between third and short.
"I thought we had some pretty good at-bats," Prado said. "I'm very pleased with the offense for the first day."
Ohio State's offense woke up in the bottom half of the fourth and produced four straight hits. Josh Dezse drove in the Buckeyes' first run with a line-drive single past third after Ryan Cypret led off with a double to deep left. USF starter Kyle Parker looked to be out of trouble with two outs, but shortstop Chad Taylor's fielding error plated Ohio State's third run.
Parker's day was over after beaning a batter to load the bases, but the Bulls got a huge lift when reliever Nick Gonzalez posted a strikeout to end the threat. Gonzalez also struck out a batter with two runners in scoring position to end the fifth inning and earned the victory by throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
"Wow, what an outing," Prado said.
The Bulls got going again at the plate in the seventh when James Ramsay hit a leadoff double to deep right and Brazeal collected his third hit, a single up the middle, to put two on with no outs. Putnam followed with a sacrifice grounder to short that gave the Bulls a 5-3 lead.
That was enough support for Gonzalez Adrian Puig and Delphey, who used his stellar curveball to strike out two batters in the ninth and secure the save.
"He's been a big-time player over the years," Prado said. "For us to be good, he's one of the guys that has to be there in a tight situation."
Puig was clutch in setting up the save, striking out one and not allowing a hit in 2/3 of an inning.
The Bulls continue their run in the Challenge 1 p.m. Saturday when they face Michigan State at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater.