By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
The Bulls have won four straight Big East series to start the season and they definitely had their bats to thank Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
Kyle Teaf's single in the ninth marked USF's 14th hit of the game and it drove in what turned out to be the decisive run in a 9-8 slugfest victory over the Panthers that locked up the series for the first-place Bulls (25-12, 10-2).
"Our hitters did what they had to do," head coach Lelo Prado said.
Sunday's victory helped USF keep sole possession of first place in the conference with Louisville, St. John's and Connecticut beginning the day a game behind the Bulls.
"I'm proud of our guys, but I don't want them to get satisfied because the next three weeks we play some great teams," Prado said. "We better pitch better. We better hit the ball better and we better play better defense."
There was no shortage of hitting in Sunday's rubber match.
USF and Pitt combined for 31 hits and the game featured three lead changes in the final four innings before the winner was decided in a tense final frame.
Daniel Rockhold powered the Bulls' five-run fifth inning with a two-run double that tied the score at 5 and Blake Sydeski followed with an RBI groundout that gave USF its first lead of the game.
The Panthers (17-17, 3-9) took a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the seventh, but the Bulls' offense got it going again in the eighth when it went ahead, 8-7, behind an RBI single by Chad Taylor and James Ramsay's sacrifice fly out that sent Alex Mendez home for the go-ahead run.
Teaf's RBI single up the middle in the ninth produced a very valuable insurance run for the Bulls, who had to withstand a late charge by Pitt in its final at-bat.
Steven Leasure, USF's sixth pitcher of the day, went the final 1 2/3 innings and started the ninth by giving up a double to Anthony DeFabio and an RBI single to Elvin Soto that cut the Bulls' lead to 9-8. Leasure ended the Panthers' comeback by pitching into a double play and getting Sam Parente to ground out.
Mendez, Taylor, Rockhold, Andrew Longley, Teaf and Luis Llerena all had two hits apiece for a USF team that racked up 27 hits and 15 runs in the final two games of the series. Leadoff man Mendez went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and Rockhold went 2-for-4 with a team-high three RBIs.
USF concludes its eight-game road trip 6 p.m. Tuesday at Bethune-Cookman before heading home for an important Big East series against Louisville that begins 7 p.m. Friday at USF baseball stadium.