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USF's Peter Strzelecki honors dad with pitching gem

USF pitcher Peter Strzelecki, who lost his father less than two weeks ago, gazes skyward upon exiting the field for the final time Sunday.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF pitcher Peter Strzelecki, who lost his father less than two weeks ago, gazes skyward upon exiting the field for the final time Sunday.

Last weekend, USF baseball coach Mark Kingston missed the Bulls' series finale against Houston to attend the funeral of junior RHP Peter Strzelecki's father in Boynton Beach.

Seven days later, in a far more familiar setting, Kingston found himself moved to tears at another proceeding honoring Kevin Strzelecki.

Displaying a composure and command belying his state of raw grief, the younger Strzelecki delivered his best collegiate performance to date, striking out a career-best 10 over 8 1/3 innings in a 6-3 victory Sunday against East Carolina.

"That's as good as I've ever seen him," said Kingston, his voice mildly cracking.

"He obviously wasn't out there alone today, getting strength with his dad, there's no doubt about it. Amazing effort. Just one of those things that humbles you, because it just shows you how powerful everything is."

The victory, combined with Connecticut's 7-4 win at Houston, gives USF (37-10, 12-6) sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

The Bulls collected 13 hits, with junior SS Kevin Merrell -- a coveted draft prospect likely playing his last home game -- and C Tyler Dietrich getting three each.

But those story lines were relegated to subplots amid USF's most inspirational pitching performance of 2017.

Strzelecki, who never previously had worked more than six innings, re-joined the team on Wednesday after remaining with his family the early part of the week. He had learned of his father's death of a heart attack on April 25.

Kevin Strzelecki, a superintendent for a commercial construction firm, was a 52-year-old dad of four.

"He was my biggest fan. He was a huge baseball fan, actually," Strzelecki said. "I would call him every day and talk to him about baseball and just everything."

Normally USF's Sunday starter, Strzelecki had been allowed by Bulls coaches to start the April 29 home game -- a Saturday night contest -- against Houston. Emotionally wracked, he failed to get out of the second inning.

"I know my dad, he would never want me to miss a start for anything," Strzelecki said. "So I knew I had to do something, figuring out how I could pitch. ... Obviously I was a little emotional, but I tried my best."

On Sunday, he logged the longest stint of any Bulls starter this season, allowing one earned run on three hits while walking one over 120 pitches. His fastball continued to flirt with 90 mph late in the game, making his changeup all the more effective.

After each inning, Strzelecki gazed skyward as he walked back to the dugout.

"He came in after the seventh and I said, 'Are you good?' He said yes, so we sent him back out," Bulls pitching coach Billy Mohl said.

"After he came back in from the eighth, he was at 108 pitches and I'm like, 'I'm gonna go to the bullpen,' and he said, 'Nope.' After what he's gone through, he got the benefit of the doubt on that one and we let him go back out there."

Strzelecki finally was pulled after allowing a single and walk with one out in the ninth. Left-hander Andrew Perez forced a double play to end things.

Technically, it wasn't a complete game. Just a compelling one.

"God works in mysterious ways," Kingston said. "It's a tremendous story."

[Last modified: Sunday, May 7, 2017 6:04pm]

    

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