After Saturday’s comeback win against South Florida, Temple was looking to secure a much needed series victory against the Bulls. But after relinquishing an early lead and failing to capitalize on late-inning opportunities, Temple’s quest get to .500 in conference play was halted.
Behind six strong innings from starting pitcher Tommy Peterson, USF outlasted Temple 6-3 at Campbell’s Field in Camden, N.J., on Sunday afternoon.
Temple senior left fielder Bobby Heitzman was twice unable to capitalize with a bases loaded opportunity with his team trailing by three runs – once in the fourth inning when the score was 4-1 USF and then again in the bottom of the eighth in a 6-3 game.
Heitzman entered Sunday as the team’s leading hitter but was sent down on strikes in both chances with the bases full.
“We had our chances, there’s no doubt about it,” Wheeler said. “I thought it was a good ball game. We competed, and that’s baseball. We were in a position to win and yesterday we got it done, today we didn’t.”
Peterson exited after six strong innings of five-hit baseball, allowing one run in the first inning and striking out five.
Once he exited, Temple took advantage in the bottom of the seventh, trailing 4-1. Sophomore right fielder Frank D’Agostino bounced out to shortstop to start the inning and then Heitzman struck out, but the ball got by the catcher and allowed Heitzman to reach first base.
Junior second baseman Josh Mason then scorched an RBI triple into the gap in right center field. South Florida made another pitching change. Junior third baseman Reyn Sugai grounded out to shortstop, but Mason was able to score to make it 4-3. But senior shortstop Derek Peterson couldn’t reach base to keep the inning alive.
South Florida (20-15, 7-5 American) made sure that 4-3 was as close as it would get. The Bulls scored a pair of runs in the top of the eighth inning off of Temple reliever Connor Staskey. Staskey was into his third inning of work out of the bullpen after relieving senior Ryan Kuehn.
The runs weren’t charged to Staskey after Mason committed an error.
“I probably left Connor in maybe just a touch too long,” Wheeler said. “But I thought with all their left-handed hitters in the lineup that it was the right matchup. Maybe it was just one hitter too long.”
Temple (10-18, 5-7) was unable to take advantage of the bases loaded chance in the eighth and then went down quietly in the ninth. The final outs of the game were recorded in the form of a double play. USF shortstop Kyle Teaf made a sliding stop before quickly firing to second. Second baseman Andres Leal then whipped the relay to first base to end the game.
Owls senior first baseman Robert Amaro upped his hitting streak to five game after going 3-4 with an RBI, his team-leading 28th of the season. Amaro now leads Temple with a .311 batting average.
Kuehn was solid in his five innings of work, though allowing the leadoff hitter to reach base in four of those innings was the main culprit in him allowing four runs on seven hits.
“He couldn’t seem to get that leadoff guy out and that makes their offense go a little bit,” Wheeler said. “Other than that I thought he did a good job and he gave us a chance.”
Despite falling in the series, Wheeler said he was happy with the way his team responded after Friday’s 13-6 drubbing. With fielding issues becoming a concern, Wheeler was forced to make adjustments over the weekend, including shuffling around where Peterson, Sugai and Mason play in the infield.
“We made some changes in the lineup a little bit, and that seemed to gel,” Wheeler said. “We made some changes defensively in the infield and I thought we did a better job playing defense. I think, once again, we should feel confident that we can compete in this league and play with anybody when we play the game the right way.”
Temple will travel to the University of Delaware for a non-conference game at 3 p.m. on Tuesday before traveling up to Storrs, Conn., for a crucial three game set against Connecticut.
The Huskies currently sit in fifth place, one spot ahead of Temple, in the American Athletic Conference.