Baseball ready for the Big East/Big Ten challenge

A few weeks ago South Florida baseball coach Lelo Prado said he couldn’t wait to see what kind of team he’s got when the lights go on.

He won’t have to wait much longer, as the Bulls open their season against Michigan in the first game of the Big East/Big Ten challenge in Clearwater tomorrow, in an inaugural tournament agreed upon by both leagues last September.

“I think it’s a great idea to come out playing such a great conference like the Big Ten, especially the three best teams in Michigan, Indiana, and Purdue,” said pitching coach Lazer Collazo. “Not only do we face tough competition in our own conference, we also see some tough out of conference teams.”

The Bulls will send right-handed sophomore Randy Fontanez to the mound Friday against the reigning Big Ten champion Wolverines.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Fontanez said.  “It’s something new.  We’ve never faced a Big Ten team before so we’re all pretty pumped about it.”

Friday and Saturday’s games will be played at Bright House Networks Field, the recently renovated spring training facility of the Philadelphia Phillies.

“It’s a nice stadium over there and it should be a big crowd,” Fontanez said.  “I’m just ready to go out and do whatever I can to help the team get a win.”

Sophomore Derrick Stultz will get the call Saturday against Purdue and Shawn Sanford is expected to start against Indiana on Sunday.  Purdue and Indiana each finished in the top half of the Big Ten last year.

“We’ve got the toughest schedule out of anybody in the tournament,” Prado said.  “Michigan’s a great club.  Indiana and Purdue are going to be tough too.  It’s a great challenge early to see where we’re at.”

The Bulls got some good news early this week as touted freshmen shortstop Sam Mende is expected to be healed after having leg issues last week.  Mende participated in Tuesday’s scrimmage and is expected to start Friday.

“(Mende is) going to play a huge role in our season this year,” Prado said.

Also playing a huge role will be reigning Collegiate Baseball Freshmen of the Year Ryan Lockwood, who will try to keep a 30-game hit streak alive.

“He doesn’t talk about it,” Prado said. “I don’t know if he’s superstitious. Everyone else talks about it but him. He just goes about his business.”