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Freshmen receive national recognition

The most important thing USF shortstop Sam Mende said he learned during his freshman year was to always stay composed.

At times it was tough for Mende, who said his attitude affected the way he performed throughout the Bulls’ baseball season. He would grow frustrated after making a mistake, or lose his cool after striking out.

Coach Lelo Prado and assistant coach Bryant Ward kept drilling the same message into Mende: stay patient. Mende said he tried to follow their advice.

That patience eventually paid off for Mende, who ended the season with a good showing at the Big East tournament and, along with first baseman Todd Brazeal, was named freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball on Wednesday night.

“(Freshman year) went really fast and I don’t think I really caught up to it until the end there, which hurt,” Mende said. “I could have helped us in the season. I just have to slow it down next year.”

Mende started all 59 games at shortstop for USF (35-24), batting .319 and totaling a team-high 17 doubles. However, his largest achievement came at the end of USF’s season at the Big East tournament in Clearwater.

Mende went 11-for-17 with three doubles, a home run and six RBI. The Bulls ended their season in the semifinals after losing to Connecticut.

“Obviously, the All-American is nice for me but I’d rather have USF as Big East champions, which would have ended things the right way,” Mende said. “Getting this award is nice, but I’d rather have a ring.”

Brazeal almost reached Mende’s game total this year, making 58 appearances at first base for the Bulls, He batted .348 and led USF with 50 RBI.

“I was really just trying to help the team any way I could but, by playing team baseball, it got me an award,” Brazeal said. “It would have been nice to go further in the postseason, though.”

Brazeal is spending the summer playing for the Staunton Braves in Virginia’s Valley Baseball League, which is made up of college players.

Mende, who was drafted last summer by the New York Yankees, is staying in Tampa this summer, trying to add strength and weight for next season.

Two other Big East players made the All-American freshman list: Notre Dame pitcher Ryan Richter and UConn outfielder George Springer.

“I’m very blessed, and I’m really happy I had the opportunity to win this award,”Brazeal said.