No. 4 regional seed USF upsets Gators; slam saves Tennessee

South Florida posted the biggest upset and Tennessee’s Drew Gilbert came through with the biggest hit on the first day of the NCAA baseball tournament.

The USF Bulls were the only No. 4 regional seed to win Friday, knocking off Florida 5-3 in the Gainesville Regional in a game that portended surprises sure to come in a year when fallout from COVID-19 made evaluating teams and setting up the bracket arduous tasks for the Division I Baseball Committee.

Florida, at No. 15, was the only team among the 16 national seeds to lose an opener in the double-elimination regionals. Some of the top seeds got pushed, though.

No. 1 Arkansas was challenged early before hitting five home runs and erasing a three-run deficit in a 13-8 win over NJIT.

No. 3 Tennessee escaped Wright State when Gilbert launched a walk-off grand slam to right in the ninth inning to beat the Raiders 9-8.

No. 5 Arizona, down four runs early, broke open a close game in the eighth inning to beat tournament newcomer Grand Canyon 12-6.

USF ended the regular season 24-26 after being picked last in the American Athletic Conference, and it had to win its league tournament to get into the NCAAs.

Florida had won 19 of 21 meetings with the Bulls in Gainesville, and had beaten them in the national tournament in 1996, 2015 and 2017.

But the Gators (39-20), which also lost their regional opener in 2019, couldn’t sustain any offense against four USF pitchers. The Bulls (29-27) have won seven of their last eight.

“We’re definitely playing well at the right time,” catcher Jake Sullivan said. “What we’re doing more than anything is playing for each other. We’re not worried about who’s on the other side of the field, who’s in the stands, where we’re playing.”

It was the second straight NCAA Tournament that opened with a No. 4 regional seed from the AAC winning its opener. Cincinnati beat Oregon State in 2019. There was no tournament in 2020 because of the pandemic.

No. 3 regional seeds Liberty, Dallas Baptist, Florida State, UC Santa Barbara and North Carolina also won.

Fairfield, the 3 seed in Austin, had a one-run lead over Arizona State in the ninth. The Stags lost 7-6 on Sean McLain’s one-out walk-off single. They had opened the season 27-0 and entered the regional 37-3.

CONE HEAD

East Carolina’s Thomas Francisco was front and center for one of the nation’s most creative home run celebrations after his three-run shot gave his team the lead over Norfolk State in an 8-5 win.

As has been the practice for all East Carolina home run hitters all season, teammates put an orange traffic cone over Francisco’s head upon his return to the dugout. The cone, found in a mudroom in the team’s baseball facility, has a hole cut into it so the wearer can see. It’s known as the “Birdhouse,” perhaps because of its triangular shape.

GLOVE AND BAT

Christian Franklin righted Arkansas after a rocky start against NJIT.

With his team down 3-2 in the fourth and runners on first and second with two outs, the center fielder made a long run to take away a gapper that would have produced at least one run. Franklin led off the seven-run fifth with the first of the Razorbacks’ three homers in the inning.

LET’S DO IT AGAIN

Fourteen players hit two home runs: VCU’s Hunter Vay, Charlotte’s David McCabe, Notre Dame’s Niko Kavadas, Oregon’s Kenyon Yovan and Anthony Hall, Wright State’s Tyler Black and Alex Alders, Duke’s Peter Matt, Liberty’s Brady Gulakowski, Louisiana Tech’s Hunter Wells, North Carolina State’s Devonte Brown, Stanford’s Tim Tawa, Texas Tech’s Cal Conley and Vanderbilt’s Dominic Keegan.

CORBIN’S 900TH

Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin beat the school that gave him his start as a head coach for career win No. 900.

Kumar Rocker allowed two hits and struck out nine in seven innings in a 10-0 victory over Presbyterian, where Corbin was coach from 1988-93.

MAINIERI FINALE?

Gonzaga’s 3-0 win over LSU means Tigers coach Paul Mainieri is one regional loss away from retirement. Mainieri, the active leader in coaching wins, announced last week he would call it a career at the end of the season. The Tigers, who lost a regional opener for the first time in 36 years, play Central Connecticut State on Saturday.

DOMINANCE ON MOUND

UC Irvine’s Michael Frias pitched a two-hitter in a 7-0 win over Nevada, John Michael Bertrand threw a five-hitter in Notre Dame’s 10-0 win over Central Michigan and Gonzaga’s Alek Jacob threw a four-hitter against LSU.

Miami had the other shutout, with Alejandro Rosario allowing four hits in 6 1/3 innings and Carson Palmquist working two innings for the save in a 1-0 win over South Alabama.

Austin Krob struck out 13 in eight innings in TCU’s 12-4 win over McNeese State, and Tristan Stevens gave up four hits in seven shutout innings as No. 2 national seed Texas beat Southern 11-0.

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More NCAA baseball tournament coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-world-series

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