CLEARWATER - Jimmy Herget pitched seven strong innings late Wednesday night as the University of South Florida baseball team opened Big East tournament play with a 5-2 victory over Rutgers.
Herget, the Big East Rookie of the Year, allowed one run on five hits in 7 2/3 innings, striking out four in his first postseason appearance.
“The first couple of innings, I was a little shaky and was trying to overthrow a little bit too much, but as the game progressed, I was able to calm myself down and throw some strikes,” Herget said.
The Bulls trailed early, but consistently strung together hits in the middle innings to take a comfortable lead.
Should USF advance to Sunday's championship game, Herget could conceivably be available to start.
Chris Norton pulled the Bulls even at 1-1 in the fourth inning with an RBI double before the Bulls broke the game open with five hits in a span of six batters in the fifth inning, including RBI singles by Alex Mendez, James Ramsay and Jimmy Falla - all with two outs.
“When we've been a good team all year, (we've strung two-out hits together),” USF coach Lelo Prado said.
Rutgers mounted a rally late, scoring a run in the ninth inning and sending the potential game-tying run to the plate before ending the game with a pair of infield pop-ups.
The Bulls are in the winners' bracket and have an easier-than-expected path for the rest of the tournament after eighth-seeded Connecticut upset top-seed Louisville 3-2 in 12 innings. The Bulls could miss Louisville all together, or only have to beat the Cardinals once Saturday in the semifinals to advance to the Big East championship game.
If No. 4 seed USF beats Connecticut on Thursday, the Bulls will have a loss to give Saturday. So whichever team advances will have to beat the Bulls in back-to-back games.
Even having swept Connecticut on the road in April, Prado said the Bulls can't take the Huskies lightly.
“Just look at what UConn did to Louisville,” Prado said. “They barely scored a run when they played them (in the regular season), and they came out and did a great job. They're going to be good, we've just got to be ready for them.”
Junior right-hander Nick Gonzalez (3-4, 3.40 ERA) will start for USF against Connecticut.
On the other side of the bracket, second-seeded Seton Hall also lost and faces a difficult road to the championship game. Pittsburgh meets Notre Dame in the winners' bracket game in that bracket.