South Florida’s 2002 schedule contains three preseason top-25 teams according to Baseball America, which also ranked Conference USA as the fifth best baseball conference in the nation.
The schedule not only includes highly touted in-conference rivals, such as Tulane, new addition East Carolina and TCU, but also tough in-state rivals such as Stetson, UCF, Miami and Florida.
The Oracle selected five season opponents to profile in the Bulls weekend series spotlight.
1. Stetson – Saturday and Sunday at Red McEwen Stadium
In a two-day weekend series, the Bulls will take on their first opponents of the season in cross-state Stetson University’s Hatters.
The Hatters come off back-to-back 40-win seasons and a second straight appearance in the NCAA Regionals. They return their entire infield, including last year’s freshman All-American first baseman Bryan Zenchyk, who led the Hatters with a .383 batting average.
On the mound the Hatters are led by senior Brian Sullivan, who went 6-3 last season with a 3.69 ERA. Joining Sullivan is another freshman All-American from last season, Jack Collins, who won his first 10 career decisions and posted a 3.90 ERA. With strong pitching and solid defense in the infield, the Hatters will prove a difficult test for South Florida in their first two games.
2. Tulane – May 10-12 at Red McEwen Stadium
In preseason polls Tulane is ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation, including a ranking of third in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Fabulous 40.
Senior first baseman James Jurries leads the high-powered offense of Tulane. Jurries was 1999’s Baseball America’s freshman of the year and, as a junior, hit .324 with 53 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.
The Green Wave are replacing their starting All-American third baseman Jake Gautreau and four-year starting shortstop Andy Cannizaro, but are also coming off their first appearance in the College World Series last season.
3. Houston – May 3-5 at Houston
The Cougars received an at-large bid in the NCAA Regionals despite a 28-29 season. They look to improve on that this season. The Cougars did, however, have a 20-7 record in C-USA. Pitching will be the key to this team with three returning starters in Brad Sullivan, Gene Flores and Austin Faught. At the bat, Chris Snyder was ranked as the best raw-power hitter in a C-USA preseason poll.
4. East Carolina – April 19-21 at Greenville, NC
Quickly starting a rivalry with the Bulls, the Pirates defeated USF in the NCAA Regionals they hosted last season. ECU went on to host a Super Regional that Tennessee won to go on to the College World Series.
The Pirates will make a statement in their first season in C-USA, as their entire pitching roster from last season returns in 2002. The squad, powered by a duo of preseason All-Americans, left-hander Sam Narron and right-hander Will Brinson, lead a staff that had a 3.62 ERA combined last season. Look for the Pirates to challenge the Bulls’ hitters when they meet in the heart of South Florida’s season.
5. Louisville – March 29-31 at Red McEwen Stadium
Louisville coach Lelo Prado, picked to be coach of Team USA, will lead the Cardinals into South Florida in March. Louisville has been ranked fifth in the conference in a preseason C-USA coaches poll as well as in the preseason Baseball America poll.
- Contact Jarrett Guthrie at email@example.com