TAMPA — Lelo Prado's next victory will be his 100th as USF's baseball coach, but he's hoping for far more significant milestones in 2010.
Prado, in his fourth season with the Bulls, hasn't guided USF into the NCAA regionals, which the Bulls last made in 2002. It's well within reach with a veteran club that returns much of last year's 34-25 team, which led the Big East for much of the season but finished second, losing in the conference semifinals in Clearwater.
"If we play together and stay healthy, this team should be there, not only in the NCAAs but with a Big East championship," Prado said Tuesday.
USF was picked to finish second in the Big East, behind defending league champ Louisville, where Prado coached before he came to USF in the summer of 2006.
Junior RHP Randy Fontanez was picked as the conference's preseason pitcher of the year, and the Bulls return six of their top seven bats from 2009, led by OF Junior Carlin, who hit .471 in conference play.
Injuries will tweak the lineup; 2B Peter Brotons is out for the year with a shoulder injury, so transfer Luis Llerena and freshman Chad Taylor (Jefferson) will split duty there. With junior Derrick Stultz sidelined perhaps until Big East play after shoulder surgery, freshman RHP Ray Delphey (Alonso) will open the season as USF's No. 2 starter, with 6-foot-8 LHP Andrew Barbosa as the likely Sunday starter.
An ambitious schedule opens with a three-game series at Florida then three tough games at the Big East-Big Ten Challenge in Clearwater and St. Petersburg. The Bulls will face Miami in the "Florida Four" doubleheader March 2 at Steinbrenner Field.
With construction on a new stadium beginning this spring, USF will play some home games at Steinbrenner, as well as the University of Tampa. From Prado's perspective, what better way to unveil a new stadium than with an NCAA regionals banner in the outfield, or better still, a Big East championship banner.
RUNNING STRONG: USF started competing in men's indoor track last year after a long absence, and the Bulls should have a strong showing this weekend at the Big East indoor championships in New York.
USF has four of the nine fastest times in the 60 meters, led by freshman Lindsey Lamar, a running back on the football team. Lamar's time of 6.77 seconds is the second fastest in the conference this season, .03 seconds behind Georgetown's Kenny Mitchell. Another football freshman, Derrick Hopkins, is seventh at 6.87, with Neamen Wise (6.86) and Gregory Fontus (6.88) sixth and ninth.
Those same names will be back in outdoor season to compete for spots on the 4x100-meter relay, along with football freshmen Kayvon Webster and Sterling Griffin, who were on the state champion 4x100 relay with Hopkins at Miami Monsignor Pace last season.
THIS AND THAT: Congrats to USF DE Jason Pierre-Paul, projected as a high first-round pick in April's NFL draft, and senior C Melissa Dalembert, who got engaged on Valentine's Day. … USF's annual Varsity Club gathering for former football players will be this weekend. It's the first under new coach Skip Holtz, and among those in attendance will be Cowboys CB Mike Jenkins, USF's first-ever Pro Bowl player this season. … USF will break ground March 3 on the Muma Basketball Center, a multicourt practice facility on the south side of the Sun Dome that should be completed by early 2011. It's part of a $30 million package of facilities upgrades.
Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.