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

Texas pitcher Zach Zubia (52) and third baseman Camryn Williams (55) celebrate after their win over Southern in an NCAA regional tournament college baseball game, Friday, June 4, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas pitcher Zach Zubia (52) and third baseman Camryn Williams (55) celebrate after their win over Southern in an NCAA regional tournament college baseball game, Friday, June 4, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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.

Top four national seeds Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt won their openers in the double-elimination regionals.

Arkansas (47-10) hit five home runs and erased a three-run deficit in a 13-8 win over NJIT.

Tennessee escaped No. 4 regional seed Wright State thanks to Gilbert’s walk-off grand slam in the ninth inning that beat the Raiders 9-8.

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.

Brady Gulakowski homered twice and drove in six runs as Liberty beat ACC tournament champion Duke 11-6. The Flames, who had lost 5-4 and 7-0 to the Blue Devils in the regular season, ended Duke's 12-game win streak.

Dallas Baptist won 6-5 over Oregon State, with Peyton Sherlin and Kragen Kechely finishing the game with 2 2/3 innings of one-hit shutout relief.

Four Florida State pitchers combined to surrender no earned runs in a 5-2 win over Southern Mississippi. UCSB's Marcos Castanon went 5 for 6 with a homer and five RBIs in a 14-4 win over Oklahoma State. Austin Love gave North Carolina a strong 6 2/3 innings in a 5-4 win over UCLA.

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.

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 and Dominic Keegan homered twice in a 10-0 victory over Presbyterian, where Corbin was coach from 1988-93.

BIG BATS

— Anthony Hall hit two homers and drove in six runs in Oregon's 13-10 win over Central Connecticut State.

— Texas Tech's Cal Conley homered twice in a 6-3 win over Army.

— National home run co-leaders Wes Clarke of South Carolina and Mat Nelson of Florida State each went deep for the 23rd time.

— Notre Dame's Niko Kavadas hit his 17th and 18th homers in a 10-0 win over Central Michigan.

— Duke's Peter Matt went 4 for 5 with two homers and a double.

— Devonte Brown homered twice in North Carolina State's 8-1 win over Alabama.

— Stanford's Tim Tawa homered twice in a 9-1 win over North Dakota State.

MOUND MARVELS

— Notre Dame's John Michael Bertrand pitched a five-hit shutout, his third complete game of the season.

— Miami's Alejandro Rosario allowed four hits in 6 1/3 innings and Carson Palmquist worked two innings for the save in a 1-0 win over South Alabama.

— Tristan Stevens gave up four hits in seven shutout innings for Texas.

— Reid Johnston allowed four hits and one run in eight innings for NC State.

— Stanford's Alex Williams pitched seven innings and combined with two relievers to limit North Dakota State to four hits and one walk and strike out 11 in a 9-1 win.

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