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Second-chance Lovecchio making a name for himself

Published: Friday, April 20, 2012

Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 10:04

ORACLE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

ORACLE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

At his third school in as many years following a strong high school career, Joey Lovecchio has finally found his fit in USF’s pitching staff, where he’s 7-0 this season.

ORACLE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

ORACLE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

It’s been a long journey for Joey Lovecchio to become a starting pitcher for the USF baseball team, but two unplanned detours haven’t stopped the junior from making his mark on a team that’s having a resurgence of its own.

Lovecchio personifies the team he now plays for. Both the pitcher and the Bulls have dropped off in recent years but are climbing back uphill in a big way.

For Lovecchio, the story begins in his freshman year at the University of Miami, where he committed to play baseball after a successful high school career. Unfortunately, his success did not translate immediately to the larger stage for a powerhouse program, and the freshman struggled.

“I was successful in high school, I was successful in summer ball and I got a good offer,” Lovecchio said. “I was really excited. But, when I got down there, I didn’t really have my ‘A’ game. I thought I was in over my head, but I wasn’t. I didn’t prove myself.”

As a freshman at Miami, Lovecchio pitched a little more than nine innings, the lowest total on the team — a sign that both the pitcher and coaching staff were beginning to lose confidence. Rather than wait it out, he decided to transfer away from the school he’d dreamt about, instead moving to Seminole State College, a tiny junior college in Sanford.

“I didn’t trust myself the next two years, and I didn’t trust them with me,” Lovecchio said. “It’s kind of unfortunate — you look forward to going to Miami, then you leave after a year to (junior college), which is basically back to high school.”

Determined to make it back to the big stage, Lovecchio played for the Trojans in the 2011 season, going 2-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 30 innings. He worked every day in hopes that he would get a chance to redeem himself.

The then-sophomore was rewarded for his determination with an offer from USF, which saw potential in the pitcher.

“(Assistant) coach (Chris) Heintz saw me, and he told (head coach Lelo) Prado he liked me,” Lovecchio said, “So Seminole sent (pitching coach) Chuck (Hernandez) video, they called me down and gave me an offer. I sat on it for a week, committed to it. I was just excited to be back to Division I baseball.”

Lovecchio made his unheralded debut in the USF starting rotation this season and has gained a reputation for his consistency. He is 7-0 this season and leads the team with 58.1 innings pitched.

“He’s everything we thought he could be. When you compete, you pitch late into games — he’s a (Randy) Fontanez type — he’ll give you a lot of innings,” Prado said, referring to USF’s stellar pitcher who graduated last year.

The trust shown by his coaching staff means a lot to Lovecchio, he said, and has helped him find success in his first season as a Bull.

“Trust is really the most important thing — the coaches having trust in you gives you confidence,” he said. “I wanted to come here, knowing what Chuck has done, and having that guy having confidence in me meant a lot.”

As for his winning record, Lovecchio thanks his offense for the run support they’ve provided him this season.

“It’s kind of funny, I joke with (Andrew Barbosa) a lot,” he said. “He’s our ace. He’ll go out and dominate and only get a couple of runs (of support). It’s funny, but I’m also very fortunate.”

Prado said he considers himself lucky to have Lovecchio in his rotation and appreciates the success that the journeyman junior has had.

“He’s done a great job,” he said. “He’s a competitor. He competes every game and when he does that, the team loves playing behind him. He throws strikes and is a super addition to our club. He’s one of the reasons that we are where we are in the conference.”

USF fans can see Lovecchio and the rest of the Bulls this weekend, as they return from an eight-game road trip for a weekend series against Louisville, which is third in the Big East.

The series begins Friday at 7 p.m. Lovecchio will start Saturday’s game at 6 p.m. before a 1 p.m. finale Sunday. 

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