TAMPA — USF baseball coach Lelo Prado has settled into a new ballpark, and he has a solid core of returning veterans and just enough impact newcomers to have optimism as the Bulls seek their first trip to the NCAA regionals since 2002.
"Pitching-wise, I feel good at how much strides they've made, and offensively, I think we'll be a better club, and that's good, because we've struggled to score runs," said Prado, whose team went 38-22 last spring and reached the Big East championship game. "I think we'll score some now."
Prado knew going into preseason practice that his top two pitchers would be senior RHP Joe Lovecchio and junior LHP Nick Gonzalez, and there's a battle for the No. 3 job to close out the weekend rotation among junior college transfer Nolan Thomas, freshman Justin Patrick of Rhode Island and sophomore Michael Clarkson (Dunedin).
"We feel good about those guys," said Prado, who said another junior college transfer, 6-foot-7 RHP Alex Vetter, will compete for starts as well once he's healthy.
Prado has loads of returning bats and has high expectations for newcomers such as freshman Levi Borders, the son of former major-leaguer Pat, who will see work at catcher, third and DH.
The Bulls open the season with seven tough games before they get a home game: Louisville, Purdue and Indiana in Clearwater this weekend, then a three-game series at Florida State and one at Central Florida before the home opener March 1 against Toledo.
"I love it. I think this group needs to get tested early to see where we're at," Prado said. "I always like facing tougher competition. I've told you a thousand times, I could schedule 45 wins every year, but it doesn't do any good. We've got to get to the point where we're competing against some of these guys."
WELL-DESERVED: Jessica Dickson, already enshrined in USF's Athletics Hall of Fame as the Bulls' all-time leading scorer, will have her No. 25 jersey retired Saturday before the women's basketball game against Seton Hall.
RECRUITING HONORS: USF football assistants Larry Scott and Ray Woodie, who handled much of the recruiting duties as Willie Taggart assembled a new staff, have been honored for their work in USF's 2013 recruiting class.
Scott, a former Bulls lineman now working under his third USF head coach, was recognized as one of the nation's top 50 recruiters by 247sports.com, continuing his success in the Miami area with four-star CB Lamar Robbins and RB Darius Tice. Scott and Woodie had at least some role in nearly every recruit who signed with the Bulls, having done much of the recruiting and evaluation until Taggart was able to bring in more assistants.
Woodie, who followed Taggart from Western Kentucky, was honored among the Big East's top recruiters by Rivals.com. The site gives him credit for securing eight of USF's 23 commitments. He was instrumental in the Bulls luring Bradenton Manatee DT Derrick Calloway out of a previous commitment to Louisville.
THIS AND THAT: Rick Stumpf, who has worked in USF's compliance department since 2006, will become associate athletic director for compliance at Delaware. … USF could make a late addition to its football recruiting class in Lake Gibson's Kennard Swanson, rated as the nation's No. 2 fullback by two national recruiting sites. Swanson was previously committed to LSU and Florida before academic issues, but his coach at Lake Gibson said he has a good chance to qualify academically. He visited USF on Monday.