UCF routs USF, sets up high-stakes Saturday
UCF collected 17 hits off four USF pitchers Friday night en route to a 9-1 rout of the No. 25 Bulls, setting up an intriguing final day of the American Athletic Conference regular season.
In all possible scenarios except one, the Bulls (40-14, 14-9) still can win the AAC regular season title -- and top seed in next week's conference tournament in Clearwater -- with a victory Saturday in Orlando.
The lone exception: the Bulls and Connecticut (31-22, 14-9) finishing in a tie for first. In that case, UConn gets the regular season title and No. 1 tournament seed by virtue of a series win against USF last weekend. The Huskies host East Carolina on Saturday.
"I just told the guys they scored nine runs tonight, and none of those get to carry over to tomorrow," said Bulls coach Mark Kingston, whose program never has won twice in the same season at UCF.
"It's a 0-0 score as we start tomorrow, we've got a chance to win the league, we're in great shape."
The Bulls will start junior RHP Peter Strzelecki -- arguably the league's hottest starting pitcher -- in Saturday's rubber match. In his last two starts (spanning 17.1 innings), Strzelecki has allowed one earned run on five hits, striking out 18 and walking two.
Considerably less sharp Friday night was Bulls right-handed starter Ryan Valdes, who allowed six consecutive hits during UCF's six-run third inning. A spot starter and middle reliever, Valdes allowed seven hits in three innings, suffering his first loss of the year in 10 decisions.
"He was getting the ball up and they took advantage of it, that's the bottom line," Kingston said.