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Bulls ready to open 2011 season in Gainesville

Facing high expectations, the USF baseball team traveled to McKethan Stadium in Gainesville to open its season against the No. 7 Gators last season.

But after allowing 22 runs over the course of the weekend, the Bulls returned home on the wrong end of a three-game sweep.

This season, the scene is very much the same. There is a lot of excitement around the 2011 USF team – particularly about the starting rotation and shiny new stadium – and the Bulls will again travel to Gainesville to play a three-game set against Florida this weekend.

However, Florida isn’t ranked seventh anymore. The Gators enter the season as the No. 1 team in the country.

The Bulls return nearly all of a team that went a disappointing 26-31 last year.

Todd Brazeal (first base), Luis Llerena (second base), Sam Mende (shortstop) and Jonathan Koscso (third base) return as an infield that started a combined 185 games last season. Llerena, a transfer from Manhattan College, led the team with a .328 batting average.

Major losses include outfielder Stephen Hunt and catcher Eric Sim.

Hunt started 56 games in the right field for the Bulls and led the team in RBIs with 44. Hunt opted to forgo his senior season and signed with the Cincinnati Reds after being drafted in the 15th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft.

Sim started 41 games at catcher last season, but chose to sign with the San Francisco Giants after being drafted in the 27th round.

Junior Daniel Rockhold will replace Sim as coach Lelo Prado’s everyday catcher this season. Rockhold only made six starts behind the plate last season, but appeared in 48 games, batting .306 with seven home runs.

Senior pitcher Randy Fontanez will start Friday’s game at 7 p.m., and senior Andrew Barbosa will get the start Saturday at 4 p.m. The series will end with a 1 p.m. start on Sunday.