April 27, 2012
TAMPA, Fla. - The left-handed duo of senior Kyle Helisek (Cranberry Township, Pa.) and sophomore Matt Meurer (Katy, Texas) combined on a five-hitter and Villanova (24-19, 7-9 BIG EAST) opened up a three-game series at USF (28-15, 11-5 BIG EAST) with a 3-2 victory at the USF Baseball Stadium on Friday night. The win was the fourth in a row for the Wildcats, who scored twice in the top of the sixth inning to take the lead and never relinquished that advantage.
Helisek (3-5, 5.88 ERA) simply had terrific command of the game and knew when to come straight after the Bulls hitters. He went 5 2/3 innings and issued seven walks while hitting a batter but also yielded just three hits and held USF to going 1-for-10 against him with runners in scoring position. The leadoff man reached for the Bulls four straight innings from the third through the sixth but Helisek was up to the task of preventing any big innings by USF, or even any extended rally for that matter.
In the bottom of the sixth inning Meurer entered the game with runners at the corners and two outs after a throwing error enabled the Bulls to cut one run off of a 3-1 deficit. Facing leadoff hitter Alex Mendez he induced a groundball to end the inning and was outstanding the rest of the way, allowing just two hits while walking none and striking out three to pick up a very well-earned save.
A starting pitching matchup featuring two senior southpaws was a good duel in the early innings between Helisek and USF starter Andrew Barbosa (5-4, 2.63 ERA), who both used their secondary pitches to keep the opposing lineup off balance. Barbosa had plenty of power in his arsenal as well and struck out five of the first six batters of the game en route to an 11-strikeout performance over eight innings.
The first nine batters of the game for Villanova were set down in order by Barbosa but one of the biggest turning points of the game came in the top of the fourth inning. After a two-out single up the middle in the bottom of the second by Mendez gave the Bulls a 1-0 lead the Wildcats came right back with a run in the top of the fourth to tie the score at 1-1.
Senior shortstop Marlon Calbi (Montclair, N.J.) lined a double down the left field line to open the top of the fourth inning and moved the rest of the way around the bases on a sacrifice bunt by senior third baseman Kevin Wager (Holden, Mo.) and a sacrifice fly by junior second baseman Tyler Sciacca (Staten Island, N.Y.).
The sacrifices were an early indication that Villanova would be able to get some mileage out of its small ball style offense in the game and threatening fly balls hit to deep left-center field by Sciacca and senior designated hitter Matt Fleishman (East Northport, N.Y.) in the inning were an indication that the Wildcats were starting to see Barbosa better.
Both of those indications during the fourth inning were evident again in the top of the sixth when senior first baseman Adam Nelson (St. Joseph, Mo.) led off and rolled a bunt up the third base line. He was going to have a hit regardless of how the ball was played but the ball was thrown away and Nelson reached second with nobody out.
After a sacrifice bunt by junior left fielder Paul Rambaud (Chicago, Ill.) advanced Nelson to third Calbi and Wager followed with consecutive run-scoring hits with two strikes as Villanova grabbed a 3-1 lead. Calbi took a pair of called strikes to get behind in the count 0-and-2 against Barbosa but then worked to a 2-2 count and fouled off a pitch before squaring up on a ball and singling to center field.
That hit put the Wildcats in front 2-1 and Wager came up looking to continue the rally. He swung and missed at the first two offerings from Barbosa but just managed to get a piece of the third pitch, a foul tip that the catcher could not hold on to for what would have been the second out. With his at-bat extended Wager took a ball and then doubled off the fence in left-center field to score Calbi from first.
Calbi was on base in three of his four plate appearances and went 2-for-3 with a walk. Sophomore right fielder Connor Jones (Chandler, Ariz.) and senior center fielder Jordan Zech (Naples, Fla.) also had hits against Barbosa, who began the day with a 2.25 ERA versus BIG EAST opponents.
USF stranded 10 runners on base during the game and both Helisek and Meurer did a good job of finishing innings. The single by Mendez which scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the third inning was one of just two hits that the Bulls had with two outs. The other came on a soft single through the left side by Luis Llerena in the bottom of the ninth inning but Meurer retired James Ramsay to end the game.
The teams meet for the second game of the series on Saturday night at 6 p.m. with sophomore Pat Young (The Woodlands, Texas) scheduled to pitch for Villanova.
NOTES: Calbi has reached base safely in 19 consecutive games and has a .407 on-base percentage during that stretch ... Meurer is 3-0 with a save and a 0.77 ERA over his last five outings, spanning 11 2/3 innings during which he has allowed just eight hits.