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Looking to stay hot in Morgantown

BASEBALL GAME TIMEUSF (14-13, 4-5) at West Virginia (22-6, 4-2)When: Tonight, 7:05Where: Ernie Shore StadiumTV/Radio: 1010 AM

The South Florida baseball team, (14-13, 4-5) traveled to Morgantown, W.Va., Thursday afternoon to face the West Virginia Mountaineers (22-6, 4-2) after a late morning practice session.

Plenty of smiles could be seen as the team prepared to leave the hot and humid Florida weather for what could be a rainy and cold visit to West Virginia.

“We played against Cincinnati in those conditions. Hopefully (the players) learned something from that,” coach Lelo Prado said. “We will play a lot better this time around and get out of (Morgantown) with two out of three.”

A convincing 17-4 victory over Central Florida – a Top 25 team – on Tuesday helped lift the team’s spirit, and fresh legs – due to the postponement of Wednesday’s game against Bethune-Cookman because of an intense storm – have USF’s coaching staff and its players feeling optimistic about the Big East series in Morgantown.

USF – No. 8 in the conference – is fighting for a spot in the Big East Tournament, which allows eight teams to qualify.

The Big East is wide open as West Virginia – No.2 in the conference – and USF are separated by a mere 1 1/2 games in the standings.

St. John’s is leading the Big East with a 5-1 record.

USF will continue without its ace, Daniel Thomas, who has been out for the past couple of weeks with an undisclosed injury. According to Prado, Thomas’ return will depend on how well he feels and what he tells his coaches.

Thomas is throwing bullpen sessions of 30 pitches. Prado will use him out of the bullpen as a middle reliever until his pitch count goes up significantly.

“He has to help us out in some way when he gets back,” Prado said.

The Bulls could have one of the best bullpens in the Big East when Thomas comes back, with David Torcise and Thomas as the set-up men and Shawn Sanford as the closer. Both Thomas and Sanford are Brooks Wallace Player of the Year candidates.

Freshman Randy Fontanez (2-2, 2.91 ERA), sophomore Matt Quevedo (0-1, 3.79 ERA) and freshman Matt Stultz (2-3, 3.29 ERA) will be taking the mound for the Bulls.

Fontanez pitched an eight-inning gem last week against Georgetown and will look to build on that performance tonight.

Quevedo has had outings of six innings or more in his past three games, but has yet to record his first win of the year.

Stultz pitched six solid innings Sunday, but the Georgetown comeback late in the game prevented him from reaching .500, something he will try to achieve when he closes out the series Sunday.