Feb. 2, 2009

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USF attracts Bulls-eye

By Christina De Nicola



Expectations are high for a young team whose program has never made it to a Super Regional, never mind Omaha.


Third-year head coach Lelo Prado (left) and the University of South Florida Bulls recently were picked to finish second in the Big East Conference after going 31-27 last season.


Sophomore centerfielder Ryan Lockwood (.415, 12 2B, 12-16 SB), who earned the honor of Freshman Player of the Year by Collegiate Baseball, leads a squad returning seven starting position players.


“He’s a competitor; he knows how to play the game,” Prado said. “He plays it the right way, and we expect a big year out of him.”


The 5-10 Tampa, Fla. native ended last year on a 30-game hitting streak and looks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump despite added pressure and expectations. 


“I’ve improved my arm strength a lot during the offseason and how to hit the inside pitch a little bit better,” Lockwood (right) said. “Obviously I’m not the biggest dude on the team. I’m never going to be a power hitter, so I hit for average, the other way, bunt and steal. I just do the classic little-guy stuff.”


Two All-Conference players are gone offensively in shortstop Addison Maruszak (.364, 12 2B) and outfielder Joey Angelberger (.323, 11 HR).


After hitting just 40 homers as a team last season, USF lost half of that production with the departure of Angelberger and outfielder Brian Hobbs (9 HR).


“I could do with a couple of big bombers,” Prado said. “That’s not what we’re about yet. We have to play some small ball. Pitching and defense is going to get us to the next level, not the long ball.”


Both middle infielders – freshman shortstop Sam Mende and junior transfer second baseman Peter Brotons – will see their first starting action together.


“We expect a lot of big things out of him [Mende],” Prado said. “He’s a freshman, and he’ll go through some growing pains, but I think that you’re going to see a guy who can really play.


Although USF lost two hurlers, the team’s strength lies in its pitching staff, which returns two of its weekend starters in sophomore right-handers Randy Fontanez (5-3, 3.54) and Derrick Stultz (4-3, 3.08). 


An experienced bullpen returns sophomore Stephen Hunt, a Freshman All-American who earned a pair of saves and posted the third-best batting average (.331) and slugging percentage (.500) on the team as a designated hitter.


Junior right-handers Matt Quevedo (0-1, 4.63) and former closer and now setup man, Shawn Sanford (5-5, 5.21, 11 saves), will also add relief.


“[Sanford’s] a player who can play a huge role for us if he bounces back like he did his freshman year,” Prado said.


Junior right-hander Andrew Salgueiro (left) will close out games for the Bulls after transferring from Louisville, the team predicted to win the Big East.


“Andrew is another piece to the puzzle,” said Prado, who coached Salgueiro at UL. “We expect more than pitching out of him. We expect a lot of leadership.”


Salgueiro’s experience in the College World Series in 2007 with the Cardinals already has had an impact on his teammates


“Our pitching staff is still kind of young, and it’s good when they ask questions and look up to me in that sense because they’ve never been there,” he said.


Known as a strikeout pitcher, the 6-0 Miami native’s top pitch is his fastball. He uses a hard slider as an out pitch and throws a changeup “every once in awhile.”


“I’ve definitely been trying to establish from the stretch my delivery,” Salgueiro said.


Prado and his coaching staff, which includes volunteer coach and former major leaguer Tino Martinez, take an aggressive approach.


“Coach Prado is hard on us a little bit, but that’s part of the game,” Lockwood (right) said.  “He’s trying to make you better in that way, and you try to execute on the field the best you can. We have great chemistry so far. Even our coaches have told us it’s the best they’ve seen since they’ve been here.”


With conference teams such as Notre Dame and Rutgers chosen to finish behind the Bulls, some players miss the anonymity that came with less publicity.


“This program hasn’t done much in baseball, and a lot of people don’t know much about us,” Salgueiro said. “We’ll take an underdog approach. I like it that way better, fly under the radar and come up.”


As plans for a new stadium come into fruition and a Top-40 recruiting class takes the field, USF continues to develop its program.


“I like to be at places that never have accomplished some things,” Prado said. “That’s what I want this program to do. Be a contender, year in and year out, and have a chance to go to Omaha.”


(photos courtesy of USF Media Relations Office)