After Robert Amaro’s walk-off single Saturday, coach Ryan Wheeler headed for the outfield and did a cartwheel.
“I owed it to them,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said he told the team that if they scored three runs in the fifth inning that he’d do the cartwheel. The team did just that, en route to a 6-5 win against South Florida in which the Owls overcame a 5-0 deficit.
The game started out rough for the Owls, as starting pitcher Patrick Vanderslice gave up two earned runs in the second, and then another three earned in the fifth.
The Owls bounced back in the bottom of the fifth with four hits, which led to four runs and a controversial ending. With one out in the inning, Derek Peterson was on third and Michael D’Acunti on first. Robert Amaro stepped into the batter’s box. Amaro hit a sharp ground ball to the third baseman, who was looking to turn the double play. D’Acunti was out at second, but Amaro was safe on a close play at first. However, the second base umpire called Amaro out because D’Acunti slid in too aggressively and was called for interference.
In response, the Owls came out firing. Relief pitcher Patrick Krall came in and was solid through three innings of work. Krall gave up two hits, two walks and one strikeout. Krall said, “it did make it a little more nerve-racking” because the team had just scored four runs and it was only a one run game.
“Krall came in and did a great job out of the bullpen,” Wheeler said.
Still a one-run game, the Owls continued their momentum in the bottom of the eighth when pinch hitter Daniel Dragos sent a shot up the middle, allowing catcher Andrew Nist to score.
“I knew once we tied it up, we would win this ball game,” Wheeler said.
Heading into the ninth inning, Wheeler called on Tim McCarthy out of the bullpen. McCarthy sat down the side in order and gave the Owls a chance in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off victory.
Lead off hitter Josh Mason, singled up the middle and advanced to second with a sacrifice bunt by third basemen Reyn Sugai. After a wild pitch, Mason moved up to third. Now with only one out, the Owls had a man 90 feet away from the win. The Bulls’ infield was playing in and held Mason on third as Peterson grounded out to short. The Bulls then intentionally walked D’Acunti to face Amaro.
“I was a little surprised,” Wheeler said. “Rob has been one of our most consistent hitters and our leading RBI guy.”
Amaro was down early in the count 0-2, but came through with a clutch hit up the middle, driving in Mason.
“This was my first [walk-off hit] in my career. I’ve been apart of many of them, but it’s just an unreal feeling to know you knocked in the game winning run,” Amaro said.
Moving forward, Wheeler and players say they are confident.
“When are you going to believe that you are a good team?” Wheeler recently said to his team. “Because you have it in you to play against anybody out there and beat anybody out there.”
After Saturday’s victory, the message is sticking.
“There is a great amount of confidence, not just for me but for the whole team,” Amaro said. “Knowing that we can come back from a couple run deficit and just come out tomorrow and hopefully win the series.”
“This is big because everyone is in a good mood, everyone is confident,” Krall said. “We even the series and go into Sunday knowing we can beat this team.”
The Owls will host USF for the series finale tomorrow at Campbell’s Field with an 11:30 a.m. first pitch.