April 3, 2011
PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. - Just a few minutes after Villanova (12-15, 2-4 Big East) took its first and only lead of the game senior closer Mike Francisco (Newtown Square, Pa.) broke the program's career saves record in a 4-3 victory over USF (12-15, 3-3 Big East) at the Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth on Sunday afternoon. After trailing for the entire game leading up to their final at bat the Wildcats plated the tying and go-ahead runs on consecutive plays in the bottom of the eighth inning to salvage one game in this weekend's three-game set against the Bulls.
Francisco allowed a leadoff single to start the ninth inning but set down the next three batters for his 18th career save, getting a swinging strikeout for the final out to surpass the previous mark of 17 saves held by James Russell (2000-03). It was also the seventh save of the year for Francisco, matching his total from all of last season.
In the bottom of the eighth inning USF turned to its own closer, Kevin Quackenbush (0-2, 1.17 ERA) in hopes of protecting a one-run while going for the series sweep. Junior first baseman Kevin Wager (Chester, Va.) worked a leadoff walk to start the inning, however, and eventually scored on a fielder's groundout by sophomore outfielder Paul Rambaud (Chicago, Ill.) to tie the game.
After the walk to Wager, freshman Michael Erb (Camarillo, Calif.) sacrificed him to second and freshman pinch hitter Connor Jones (Phoenix, Ariz.) singled to advance Wager to third. That hit left runners at the corners with one out and the speedy Rambaud at the plate. Rambaud grounded a ball to shortstop and the Bulls defense chose to try for the inning-ending double play.
Jones was forced out at second base but Rambaud just beat the throw to first and then moved into scoring position himself when the ball got away from the first baseman. Senior third baseman David Koczirka (Thornton, Pa.) hit the very next pitch for a double to right field that scored Rambaud with the game's eventual winning run.
USF opened the scoring with one run in the top of the first inning and two more in the top of the second to take an early 3-0 lead. The late rally by Villanova never would have been possible if it wasn't for the combination of another terrific outing by sophomore reliever Stephen Ostapeck (Sacramento, Calif.) and a two-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning that got the Wildcats back into the game.
Ostapeck (2-0, 1.35 ERA) entered the game with two outs in the second inning and two runners on base with Villanova already down by three runs. He stranded the two inherited runners and took the game all the way up until the ninth inning when the ball could be handed off to Francisco. When all was said and done, Ostapeck had thrown 6 1/3 innings of two-hit baseball, allowing no runs and walking none while striking out two. He retired 19 of the 21 batters that he faced, including the last 12 in a row. Ostapeck has now pitched 19 consecutive scoreless innings out of the bullpen in his last six appearances.
The Wildcats had exactly one hit in each of the first five innings of the game but each time had the base runner stranded without scoring a run. That changed in the sixth inning when senior designated hitter Dain Hall (Barrington, Ill.) drew a leadoff walk, the first and only free pass allowed in 5 1/3 innings by Bulls starter Matt Reed.
With a leadoff man on for only the second time in the game junior right fielder Matt Fleishman (East Northport, N.Y.) tripled to center field to score the first Villanova run and junior left fielder Andrew Geenen (Portola Valley, Calif.) followed with a sacrifice fly to bring home Fleishman and make the score 3-2.
Koczirka finished the day 3-for-5 and Wager had two hits and a walk for the Wildcats.
Villanova returns to action this coming Tuesday afternoon when it visits La Salle for a 3:15 p.m. matchup in the semifinals of the Liberty Bell Classic. The winner advances to play either Delaware or Lehigh in the championship game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.