Bulls have potential to be great

Fans shouldn’t be discouraged by a 0-3 record; the USF baseball team has the chance to be great this year.

USF also started last season with a sweep in Gainesville at the hands of the Gators. The Bulls slumped to a 26-31 record, but there is reason to believe this year will be different.

Facing the No. 1 Gators – and a nearly unstoppable shortstop in Nolan Fontana – the pitching staff allowed 16 runs in 24 innings.

If the Bulls expect to succeed, the pitchers will need to play a major role.

Randy Fontanez returns as the Friday night pitcher and, though he lasted just 4.2 innings in his season debut, opponents have reason to fear him.

Fontanez went at least five innings in all 15 of his starts a year ago and completed four games. He set a career high in strikeouts with 105, which led the Big East. On March 26, Fontanez pitched the first no-hitter in USF history against Notre Dame.

USF’s Saturday starter Andrew Barbosa can simply overpower batting lineups and gave the Bulls a chance to knock off Florida. At 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, Barbosa is an intimidating presence on the mound. After walking on a season ago, Barbosa posted an 8-2 record with a 2.40 ERA, a Big East best.

In six innings against Florida on Saturday, Barbosa allowed just one earned run and struck out five batters.

Freshman Nick Gonzalez made his college debut Sunday and, though he lasted only three innings, showed his ability to get out of jams, despite being sick the week before. After walking Gators second baseman Josh Adams in the third inning, Gonzalez successfully picked him off of first base.

After walking two more batters, Gonzalez came through under pressure, striking out designated hitter Brian Johnson to end the inning – the first strikeout of his career. Gonzalez only allowed two hits and one earned run, all of which came in the first inning.

USF was limited in Gainesville by an offense that struggled to produce against the Gators’ great arms.

Leadoff hitter James Ramsay, a freshman from Brandon, managed just two hits in 13 at bats and struck out a team-high eight times over the weekend.

Bulls fans shouldn’t expect these struggles to last long. As a sophomore in 2008, Ramsay was named the St. Petersburg Times Hillsborough County Baseball Player of the Year. That season, Ramsay hit .467 with 30 RBIs.

In the ninth inning of the season opener, Ramsay hit a home run that easily cleared the right field wall of McKethan Stadium, 325 feet away from home plate. He also hit a double into the corner in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game.

Of the 12 players with the highest batting average from last season, nine are back this season, led by Luis Llerena, who hit a team-high .328 a year ago.

This weekend’s series against Elon should be a better display of what USF has to offer for both this and future seasons. The Bulls will open their new stadium against a team that went 38-24 and made the NCAA tournament.

With a strong pitching staff to carry them through this season, and new facilities to lure in highly rated prospects, the USF baseball program could very soon be on par with state powerhouses Florida, Florida State and Miami.