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USF set for Big East Play

When Big East baseball coaches picked South Florida to finish fourth in the conference during the preseason, their decision hinged on the strength of the pitching staff. Randy Fontanez and Andrew Barbosa were expected to be as strong of a one-two punch as the Big East had to offer.

But now, that combination is limited to just the one-punch following Barbosa’s elbow surgery – which he successfully underwent on St. Patrick’s Day.

On the eve of this weekend’s opening Big East series, the Bulls sit at 9-12. The team hasn’t won a weekend series since the sweep of Florida A&M that ended March 6.

Randy Fontanez leads a staff that has been hurt by a lack of run support.

Through 21 games this season, the Bulls have averaged 3.9 runs per game, more than two runs fewer than the 6.2 they averaged last year.

Freshman Nick Gonzalez is likely to move into USF’s Saturday-night starting spot.

Though he has walked 14 batters already this season – a team-high – Gonzalez is holding opposing batters to just a .185 batting average.

Matt Reed, who began the season as the midweek starter, is likely to be USF’s Sunday afternoon pitcher. Reed pitched eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over Bethune-Cookman University last Sunday and also led the Bulls to a victory over then-No. 24 Miami on March 1.

The pitching staff will have to deal with one of the Big East’s hottest hitters in Mountaineers sophomore Brady Wilson.

Wilson went 5-for-9 with four RBIs during a Tuesday doubleheader sweep of Eastern Michigan. His batting average of .398 was fourth-highest in the Big East entering the week.

Two other Mountaineers – Jeremy Gum (.383) and Dan DiBartolomeo (.365) – are also in the top 11 in the Big East.

The Bulls last met West Virginia in the second round of the 2010 Big East Championship, winning 10-5. It was their only meeting of the year.

Game one of Friday’s series is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the USF Baseball Stadium. Game two will also begin at 7 p.m., before a 1 p.m. start to the series finale Sunday.