Fighting rain and windy conditions early in South Bend on Saturday, USF gave Notre Dame a small ball shower, scoring six runs in the first five innings, but faltered late by blowing a six run lead in a 7-6 loss, giving the Irish a crucial Big East series triumph.

The Bulls jumped out to a 6-0 lead by the fifth, but the Irish battled back on USF starter Derrick Stultz and the Bulls’ bullpen.

Leading 6-5 entering the ninth, Stultz pegged the first batter, and then threw a wild pitch to advance the tying run to second. Stultz walked Evan Sharpley to put the winning run at first, forcing coach Lelo Prado to go with reliever Joe Cole to save the game.

He couldn’t.

Cole, who entered with a 4.52 ERA, gave up a game-tying single to A.J Pollock, intentionally walked Golden Tate and then walked Jeremy Barnes on four straight pitches with the bases loaded to end the game.

The Bulls (31-18, 18-5) took an early advantage on Stephen Hunt’s run-scoring ground out, and Jonathan Koscso came in to make it 2-0 on Todd Brazeal’s single to centerfield in the first inning. USF poured a third run on the Irish with another fielder’s choice in the top of the second.

The Bulls’ small-ball approach came into play again. Trey Manz singled in Junior Carlin  in the third, and Koscso put down a beautiful two-out bunt to score Sam Mende — and beat the throw — in the fourth.

The Bulls finished with 13 hits.

Stultz put things in cruise control for the first four innings, shutting down the Irish bats. However, he found himself in trouble during the fifth — loading the bases with one out — and the Irish got a pair of two-run singles to cut the lead down to 6-4.

Stultz continued into the eighth. However, on the first pitch of the inning Jeremy Barnes blasted a home run into the right field hedge grass to cut it at 6-5. USF’s sophomore was tagged with all seven runs, while giving up six hits. He struck out five and walked three.

USF dropped Friday’s game 8-5, putting Notre Dame in sole possession of fifth place in the Big East. Sunday’s fixture has been moved up to 12:05 p.m. because of travel obligations.