The USF baseball team will begin regular season play on Saturday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, playing three games this weekend as part of the Big East-Big Ten Baseball Challenge, an annual three-day Division I baseball event.
USF is scheduled to play two games on Saturday. The team will battle its Big East conference rival Louisville at 4 p.m. and then face off against Big Ten affiliate Purdue at 7:30 p.m. Bulls baseball action continues Sunday at 1 p.m. at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin where USF will square off against Indiana.
USF’s first and most important match-up of the weekend comes against Louisville, which is ranked as the No. 4 team in the nation. The Bulls will need to have their bats ready for the Cardinals, who led offensive categories with a .295 batting average, 632 hits and 427 runs scored last season. USF will rely upon senior outfielder Alex Mendez to kick the team’s offense into gear.
Mendez collected 63 hits, knocked in 32 runs last and played a crucial role in the USF’s Big East Championship Tournament victory against Louisville last season. He went 2-for-4 and drove in half of the Bulls’ runs in a 6-2 win.
USF will be tested in the second game against Purdue, the 2012 Big Ten Conference champion.
Purdue recorded 45 victories last season and played two games in the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Tournament before being eliminated by Kentucky in a regional matchup.
Senior pitcher Joey Lovecchio is slated to be on the bump for the Bulls, going 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA and failing to give up any home runs last season. Lovecchio will be probed by Purdue’s balanced offense and senior outfielder Stephen Talbott, who batted .347, collected 60 hits and knocked in 18 runs last season. Pitching proved to be the difference in the Bulls’ 7-5 victory against the Boilermakers in 2008 and Lovecchio and the Bulls hope to do the same on Saturday.
USF’s closing game against Indiana should prove to be tight because both clubs are polar opposites of one another in terms of offense and defense.
The Bulls have strength in pitching that the Hoosiers are missing, and Indiana has a boom in the bat that USF lacks. Junior Nolan Thomas is one of the players rumored to start for the Bulls on Sunday.
Thomas transferred from Tallahassee Community College and went 7-2 with 61 strikeouts and a 2.83 ERA before coming to USF. Thomas will face Indiana’s stellar sophomore outfielder Sam Travis, last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year award winner, should he be called upon to take the mound. Travis batted .319 with nine homers last year and poses to be a nightmare for opposing pitchers in 2013. The southpaw Thomas hopes to neutralize Travis and earn his first career win at USF. The Bulls fell to the Hoosiers, 9-7, in 2008, but the team anticipates a better outcome this weekend.
After this weekend, the Bulls will travel to FSU to take on the Seminoles in a three-game set beginning at 4 p.m. next Friday.