By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - Cashing in with runners in scoring position has helped the Bulls put another Big East series victory in the bank.
James Ramsay produced the go-ahead single with the bases loaded in the seventh inning and the USF baseball team held on to hand Notre Dame a 6-4 loss before a home crowd of 1,274 on Sunday. The Bulls also came up big at the plate in Saturday's 11-6 victory that set the stage for the series win.
"It's really good for our program and our guys," USF head coach Lelo Prado said.
Sunday's series-clinching victory was a bit of redemption for a USF team that was swept by Notre Dame last season, which was a key reason why the Bulls missed out on the Big East Tournament. USF (20-9) is now 5-1 in Big East play and just five wins away from equaling its entire total from 2011.
"We have a wonderful team and it's exciting to be part of this right now," said leadoff man Alex Mendez, who went 3-for-5 in the series finale.
Producing in crucial situations was required in a battle of teams at the top of the Big East standings.
Notre Dame (16-10, 4-2) struck first in the top of the second when Alex Robinson hit a sacrifice fly to deep right-center to send Joe Hudson home. Hudson led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and was moved over to third on a fielder's choice.
The Irish grabbed a 2-0 lead in the third on an RBI single to left by Eric Jagielo that drove in Conor Biggio, son of former Houston Astros great Craig Biggio, after the freshman singled with one out and stole second.
The Bulls' bats got going in the bottom half of the third with two outs when Mendez, already with a double to his credit, singled to right and Chad Taylor singled past diving shortstop Jason McMurray. It was all tied up at 1 after Ramsay lined a single to center. Ramsay, a sophomore from Brandon, Fla., came into the game with a .342 average that ranked second on the team and he had the most at-bats of any Bull (111).
The Bulls were back in business in a two-run fourth inning that knocked Irish starter Sean Fitzgerald out of the game.
Freshman Buddy Putnam, getting his 13th start of the season, led off the inning with a single and moved over to second after Todd Brazeal walked. Chris Norton's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners and Kyle Teaf tied the game with an RBI single to left-center. Luis Llerena produced the go-ahead run with a fielder's choice with a groundout to second.
USF starter Derrick Stultz rolled through the fifth but couldn't avoid trouble in the sixth when Notre Dame tied the score at 3. The senior right-hander walked Jagielo to open the inning and gave up a single to Trey Mancini. A Hudson flyout moved Jagielo over to third and the sophomore scored one batter later when Ryan Bull grounded into a fielder's choice.
Stultz got the support he needed just an inning later when USF plated two after coming through with the bases loaded.
Llerena was a part of another go-ahead score for the Bulls in the seventh when senior second baseman walked with one out. Mendez continued be a major thorn in Notre Dame's side when he collected his third hit of the game, a double to left-center, to put runners on second and third. Taylor loaded the bases with a walk and Ramsay added to his stellar day with a two-run single that fell in between three players in shallow center.
Clutch contact by Ramsay gave him three RBIs along with his team-best 13th multi-hit game of the season.
"I put a lot of pressure on him because I think he should be one of the top players in the conference," Prado said. "I'll keep pushing him and hopefully he'll keep responding like he did today."
Putnam also was 2-for-4 after following Ramsay with an RBI single to left field that gave USF a 6-3 lead heading into the eighth inning.
Stultz's day was done after seven innings and the senior gave Prado exactly what he was looking for, giving up three runs on seven hits and walking only one batter. Stultz (4-1) capped off a solid string of starts by USF arms during a weekend that saw a trio of Stultz, Andrew Barbosa and Joey Lovecchio give up seven earned runs in 20 1/3 innings.
"I think there is a little competition among the starters. Each one wants to out-do the other guys," Prado said.
It wasn't all smooth sailing for the Bulls, however, before they locked up the series victory.
Steven Leasure worked a perfect eighth, but closer Ray Delphey gave up a solo home run to Hudson to start the ninth. Delphey regrouped by getting a lineout, a strikeout and another lineout to secure his third save of the season.
"So far, so good," Prado said. "It's a good start, but we have to keep finishing this thing the right way."
USF will host Stetson 7 p.m. Tuesday before beginning an eight-game road trip that begins 6:30 p.m. Friday at Cincinnati.