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Is USF's Fontanez Big East's top pitcher?

Fontanez On Monday night, the Big East's top eight baseball teams will gather in Clearwater for the league's postseason awards ceremony on the night before the conference tournament begins.

And since we now know that USF sophomore Randy Fontanez won't pitch this weekend, so as to be fully rested for Tuesday's tournament opener, the question can be asked: Does Fontanez deserve to be honored as the Big East Pitcher of the Year?

The statistics seem to point to Fontanez, who has the league's lowest ERA in conference play (2.48) and is tied for the league lead with a 6-1 conference record. Fontanez leads the league in innings pitched and has more complete games (4) than nine of the other 11 Big East teams have on their entire staff.

"I think Randy should be the Pitcher of the Year in this conference. There's no doubt in my mind," coach Lelo Prado said Tuesday night. "He's just been great. There's nobody else with the numbers he's put up. He's only had two outings you could say were bad outings, and for most guys, those are good outings, getting into the sixth and seventh innings. He's had an unbelievable year, but he's worked so hard and he's such a good kid."

Fontanez has been the Friday night starter for a USF team that has sat atop the Big East standings most of this season, allowing three earned runs or less in his first seven starts before allowing four in USF's loss at Notre Dame last weekend.

His primary competition is Louisville ace Justin Marks, who was the preseason pick for Big East Pitcher of the Year and has led second-place Louisville, with a 6-1 record to match Fontanez and a conference-best 65 strikeouts. Marks' ERA, however, is 4.25 in conference play, a full run and a half higher than Fontanez's. To that end, USF might be able to help Fontanez's chance if they can beat Marks this weekend in Louisville -- the Bulls need one win in three games to clinch the league's regular-season title.

We'll have more on Fontanez in a story Monday -- that's his 20th birthday, by the way -- that will advance the Big East tournament and look at how USF was able to lure away a pitcher whose Oviedo home is literally within sight of UCF's campus.

-- An update on the Tony Gwynn rule question we presented Tuesday night, concerning USF's Junior Carlin leading the Big East in conference batting average but barely meeting the at-bats requirement. USF inquired to the Big East about whether such a provision would be used if Carlin were to have seven or fewer at-bats this weekend.

The answer? The Big East will not consider Carlin eligible for the conference batting title unless he meets the at-bats requirement, regardless of whether going hitless in the remaining at-bats would still give him an average better than anyone else in the league. The league explained that the NCAA uses a similar logic for the purposes of declaring individual champions, for which they present an actual physical award. And because the BIg East doesn't do formal awards for statistical leaders, they wouldn't use the same interpretation. The league acknowledges conference batting leaders with a line in their annual media guide, but apparently the relevant criteria is whether or not there's a $10 plaque involved. Again, it'll be a moot point unless Carlin sits out a game this weekend or takes a high number of walks, leaving him short of the necessary at-bats.

-- Cardinal Mooney outfielder Nick Conforti has committed to play baseball at USF, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Conforti will bring solid speed to the Bulls, with 21 steals and a .476 average hitting leadoff for Cardinal Mooney.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 6:26pm]


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