By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
CLEARWATER - USF's Big East tournament game against Pitt started at 5:21 p.m. Thursday and didn't end until 11 minutes before midnight, but it was well worth the wait for the Bulls fans that stuck it out.
USF put together an eight-run third inning - all with no outs - that resumed after a rain delay that lasted 3 hours, 38 minutes and the Bulls rolled to a 12-5 victory to avoid elimination at Bright House Field.
"We had that one inning when we were really on top of the ball. We had some great swings pretty much the whole night," head coach Lelo Prado said. "I'm happy with the performance. They really bounced back."
USF will wait to see who its opponent will be until Friday afternoon. The Louisville-UConn game, originally scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, was pushed back until 11 a.m. Friday and the Bulls will face the loser of that contest 6 p.m. Friday back at Bright House Field.
Jimmy Falla went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, while Alex Mendez and James Ramsay each had two hits apiece to help the Bulls capitalize on six Pitt errors in the Thursday's victory that helped the Bulls improve to 35-21.
"Our team is all about momentum," Prado said. "When we get out in front we play a lot better. We play with great intensity and we did that tonight."
Mendez started the game on second base after hitting a single and moving over to scoring position on an error. A throwing error on a pickoff attempt with one out moved the junior over to third base and the Bulls had a 1-0 advantage when Mendez scored on a passed ball with two outs.
Pitt threated to tie it up in the bottom half of the first with Anthony DeFabio on third when shortstop Kyle Teaf made a play from deep in the hole and his strong throw to first denied Boo Vazquez of a single to get USF out of the jam.
The Panthers were back to being busy on the base paths in the second when they had runners on the corners with one out. USF starter Derrick Stultz pulled off the escape act by striking out Elvin Soto and getting Derik Wilson to fly out.
USF stranded 14 runners in Wednesday's 7-2 loss to UConn, but Thursday proved to be a much better story for the Bulls in the third inning alone.
Andrew Longley led off with a walk, Teaf was hit by a pitch and Mendez loaded the bases with a single that landed on the line in left field. Luis Llerena cashed in with a two-run single to left-center that gave USF a 3-0 lead still with no outs. Ramsay kept things going with a RBI double down the right field line and Todd Brazeal gave the Bulls a 5-0 advantage with the team's fourth straight hit in the inning.
Pitt pitching couldn't stop USF's momentum, but the weather sure did. The game was under an official delay at 6:01 p.m. because of heavy rain and lightning. Brazeal made his way back to first base shortly before 10 p.m. and USF's marathon inning continued with an RBI double by Falla. Zac Gilcrease capped off the inning's scoring with a two-run single and right-hander Joey Lovecchio came in for Stultz, who threw 29 pitches before the rain delay.
USF waited until it had two outs in the fourth, but Falla came through with an RBI single to pump the lead up to 10-0.
DeFabio got the Panthers on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI single, Vazquez followed with a two-run triple and suddenly the Panthers were back in the game after Casey Roche's run-scoring groundout cut USF's lead to 10-4.
Lovecchio (8-4) wound up giving USF 4 1/3 valuable innings and handed the ball over to Janick Serrallonga with one out and a runner on first in the seventh. Pitt put runners on second and third with two outs, but Serrallonga pitched into a groundout to end the threat.
USF took a 12-4 lead in the top of the ninth with an RBI groundout by Gilcrease and a Teaf RBI single after Longley tripled with two outs.
Serrallonga gave up a run in the bottom half of the frame, but he sealed up a very valuable victory for the Bulls after coming into the game with only six appearances all season.
"Derrick started out well, Lovecchio pitched well and Janick did his job there at the end to not use up the bullpen," Prado said. "We survived another day."