By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - The Bulls want to turn their season around in a hurry and they took a huge step in the right direction Tuesday night in Orlando.
USF snapped a four-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory over UCF at Jay Bergman Field. Jimmy Falla and Austin Lueck drove in two runs apiece to help the Bulls (2-5) make a statement at the final stop on their seven-game road trip.
"I'm so proud of the kids and coaches. They stuck together when nobody thought we'd beat them today, especially after the rough start," head coach Lelo Prado said. "We're going to keep fighting and we have a long season ahead of us."
The Bulls were clinging to a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth when second baseman Nik Alfonso made a play Prado certainly won't forget anytime soon. The Knights had a runner on second with one out when Alfonso made a diving snag to his left and made the throw to first.
"It probably saved the game," Prado said.
Steven Leasure earned his first save of the season one batter later by getting Chris Taladay to line out to shortstop Kyle Teaf.
Right-hander Michael Clarkson got a win in the first start of his career after allowing one hit in four innings of scoreless work. The sophomore struck out a batter and walked one in his first appearance of the season.
"It was a complete performance by our team," Prado said. "We could have folded at the end, but they hung in there and made it happen."
Alfonso also contributed at the plate with a 2-for-4 performance that raised his batting average to .444 as a redshirt freshman.
"Nik is a kid at the beginning of the year we thought wasn't going to get a lot of playing time and he's stepped up," Prado said. "He's the kind of guy that just goes out and does his thing."
USF got the scoring started in the second inning when Falla led off with a double down the left field line and Lueck sent him home two batters later with a groundout.
Falla's second double to left field gave USF a 2-0 lead in the fourth. The Bulls finished the frame with a 4-0 advantage thanks to another RBI groundout by Lueck and a run-scoring single by Blake Sydeski. James Ramsay got the Bulls back on the scoreboard in the fifth with an RBI single that scored Alfonso.
Falla's hot night continued with a bases-loaded walk that spotted USF a 6-0 lead in the seventh before the Knights started to chip away at the lead with the long ball. James Vasquez and Jeramy Matos each hit solo homers off Joey Lovecchio in the seventh.
UCF's rally continued with an Erik Hempe solo homer and Vasquez's RBI single in the eighth. The Knights (4-3) had runners on second and third with two outs in the inning when Chad Taylor got the Bulls out of the jam with a strikeout.
"We have to build on this, keep working and this team is going to be good. I've said it from the very beginning," Prado said. "I told everybody this could be a rough start, but our guys have battled through it and now we finally get to come home."
The Bulls' home opener is set for 7 p.m. Friday against Toledo. The three-game series continues 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday's finale is scheduled for 1 p.m. at USF baseball stadium.