CLEARWATER, Fla.–I had the South Florida-Michigan matchup circled on my calendar as one of the highlights of this weekend, and I was not disappointed. The Bulls played superbly for seven innings but unraveled in the final two, losing 6-5 on a walk-off infield single by Michigan outfielder Kenny Fellows.
"I’m just disappointed because that was our problem last year–finishing games," USF coach Lelo Prado said. "You’ve got to be able to finish. You can’t walk guys in the eighth and ninth inning and expect to win. You can’t misplay balls–our center fielder misplays the ball twice. If you walk guys and stuff like that in the ninth inning, you’re going to be in trouble, and that cannot happen."
Prado said he was very pleased with the strong start by ace righthander Randy Fontanez, who allowed just two runs on six hits over seven economical innings. Fontanez was in control and made big pitches to escape a couple of jams in the last two innings, but he was deprived of a win by USF’s shaky relief work, a scenario that played out far too often last year.
Michigan, meanwhile, showed impressive moxie in battling back from a three-run deficit over the final two innings. The Wolverines got key hits from talented youngsters like Ryan LaMarre and Jake McLouth (the younger brother of Pirates outfielder Nate), but also from veterans who have been waiting in the wings for their chance to shine like Fellows and Nick Urban. Those two came up big in the ninth, as Urban doubled to left field to lead off the inning, and Fellows knocked him home with a ground ball up the middle that shortstop Sam Mende managed to knock down, but his throw to the plate was not in time to get the speedy Urban.
"It’s really exciting to see Kenny Fellows, who walked on, I cut him and he comes back, and he was waiting in the wings for a couple years now," Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. "This is his fifth year, and he’s a starter. He can really run and do some things, but he hadn’t been able to play because of the guys we had. And Nick is another walk-on who’s been waiting in the wings. Today they both did well, and it was exciting."
And Maloney was encouraged by the way ace righty Chris Fetter competed after getting off to a rough start. One scout said Fetter reminds him of Tampa Bay Rays righty Andy Sonnanstine, another finesse righthander who uses various arm slots to give hitters different looks.
"Chris Fetter settled in nice," Maloney said. "Had it been later in the year I think we would have had him keep going, but we didn’t want him to go over pitch limits. (Early on), I think he was just off a hair. Inside he was pitching really well, but it’s a little out in a live game in the weather. I think he was close but wasn’t as sharp as he will be later. And the good thing about Chris is he has staying power. That’s the veteran leadership you’ve got to have."
The Wolverines might have lost some key players from the team that hosted a regional last year, but they did an awfully nice job reloading. And they proved today that they still have some reliable veterans to steer the ship.
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