TAMPA -- In what was thought to be a match-up of premier pitchers in the BIG EAST, a one-side rout broke out in favor of the hometown Bulls.
Fortunately for the University of South Florida baseball team (23-27, 14-8 BIG EAST), ace Randy Fontanez more than held up his end of the deal.
Fontanez threw 7.0 superb innings as the Bulls dismantled first-place UConn (39-11, 16-5), 12-1, Friday night in game one of the three-game set.
UConn ace Matt Barnes suffered his first loss of the season after he was chased after just two plus innings.
With the win, the Bulls clinch their fifth straight trip to the BIG EAST tournament, which will be held in Clearwater, Fla. in two weeks. More importantly, the Bulls are now just 2.5 games behind Pittsburgh and UConn, who are now tied for first in the league. The Bulls are two games behind third-place Louisville.
UConn's George Springer continued to be a thorn in the side of the Bulls's ace, as he connected on a solo homer in the top of the first. That was Fontanez's lone mistake and the only offense the 19th-ranked Huskies would muster all evening.
Fontanez scattered four hits while striking out six to pick up his second win in as many starts.
The 2010 BIG EAST Preseason Pitcher of the Year faced just two batters over the minimum (thanks to a pair of doubles plays) while not walking a batter for the first time in his 13th start this season.
For the second time in as many Fontanez starts, the Bulls offense gave him plenty of runs support registering 12 runs on nine hits after plating 13 against St. John's a week ago in Queens. Fontanez improved to 5-2 against BIG EAST competition.
Barnes, who came into the start a perfect 7-0 in nine starts this season, was believed by many to be the front-runner for BIG EAST pitcher of the Year. Barnes was roughed up while throwing 76 pitches in his two-plus innings with just 42 of them being for strikes.
The Bulls made Barnes and the rest of the UConn relief pay again and again for their inability to find the strike zone. UConn pitchers surrendered six walks and hit three USF batters. Of those nine baserunners, five came around to score.
Down 1-0 with two out in the home half of the second, Eric Sim delivered an RBI single to score Jonathan Koscso, who doubled earlier in the inning.
From there the flood gates opened as the Bulls scored five more times in the frame. The rally was highlighted by a two-run double off the bat of Ryan Lockwood and a RBI single by Junior Carlin.
USF picked back up where it left off in the third inning and pushed across a pair after an RBI fielder's choice from Lockwood and bases loaded walk by Todd Brazeal.
On the pitching side of the things, Fontanez continued to cruise as he sat the Huskies down in order in five of the seven innings.
The Bulls scored a pair of unearned runs thanks to errant throw by Dave Fisher on a sac-bunt attempt by Lockwood in the fifth. The next inning Alex Mendez delivered the final blow to the Huskies with a shot over the right field wall for his first career homerun.
Koscso continued his hot hand at the plate delivering three hits. He was the only Bulls with multiple hits, while Lockwood drove in three runs on the night. Stephen Hunt went 1-for-2 but reached base four times thanks to a pair of walks and a hit by pitch.
Zach Pietrzyk worked two perfect innings striking out one to close the door on the Huskies.
The Bulls and Huskies will meet again Saturday evening with first pitch at 7 p.
USF players wore black wrist bands featuring the No. 36 in honor of the former USF head coach and MLB Hall of Fame Robin Roberts, who passed away last week... The win marks the first in 2010 against a ranked opponent for the Bulls... They are 1-9 against ranked teams... Ryan Lockwood has now hit safely in six straight while Jonathan Koscso has hit safely in his last five... Randy Fontanez has now struck out 91 batters on the season and surpassed teammate Andre Barbosa for team and BIG EAST lead... Seven of the Bulls nine starters tallied a hit while all nine reached base at least once.