BY GREG AUMAN
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Long before you get to the Bulls’ final record, this could be the Year of the Comeback for South Florida baseball.
That was clear after USF’s season-opening 5-3 win against Ohio State to open the Big Ten/Big East Challenge, a game that offered promising starts for two of the four key Bulls returning from major injuries.
Senior DH Todd Brazeal (pictured at right), who tore his ACL during fall ball, not only made it back for the opener, but he went 4-for-4, trying even to leg out a triple in his last at-bat, only to be thrown out at third. Brazeal’s recovery time was a blink compared to closer Ray Delphey, who pitched Friday for the first time in nearly two years due to shoulder problems, getting two strikeouts in a scoreless ninth for the save.
“I want to be in a late-game situation with the game on the line, no matter what,” said Delphey, a 5-foot-10, 200-pounder who had nasty curves for two third strikes Friday. “We did rehab every day over the fall . . . Hopefully it’s going to work out for us. It’s great to start off the year the way we did.”
USF coach Lelo Prado didn’t hesitate in turning to Delphey with the top of the Ohio State lineup due up in the ninth. The Buckeyes had runners on second and third when the game ended, but Prado said that’s a situation that Delphey can thrive in.
“He likes that. For us to be good, he’s one of the guys that has to be there in a tight situation,” Prado said.
Prado could still find his top two starters in two more rehabilitated senior stars. Lefty Andrew Barbosa, a breakout star in 2010, had Tommy John surgery after only two appearances last year but is poised for a full recovery; righthander Derrick Stultz last pitched in 2009, missing two full seasons with his own shoulder problems.
If those four are healthy, so are the Bulls’ chances of improving greatly on a disappointing 2011 season, which saw USF go 25-29 and awkwardly miss the Big East tournament, which they hosted in Clearwater. It’ll be there again in May, and USF is hopeful to be a much more prominent part of the postseason.
Making it across the bay isn’t always easy for the Bulls. As if a 10 a.m. first pitch for Friday’s opener wasn’t enough, the Bulls’ team bus didn’t show up as scheduled at 6:30, so players took their own cars on the hour drive to the Walter Fuller Complex.
So a little luck wouldn’t hurt, and the Bulls have a football legend looking down on them this season. Each game, one player will wear the No. 63 jersey in tribute to former USF athletic director and Bucs star Lee Roy Selmon, who died in September.
On Friday, it was senior third baseman Daniel Rockhold, who brought in the Bulls’ first run of the year when a throw to first sailed high; he added an RBI single as well. On Saturday, the Bulls rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the final two innings, and the spark came from center fielder James Ramsay, who wore No. 63 and doubled in the tying run.
Prado will be careful not to push his recovering players too much early in the season, with the pitchers under careful counts, and Brazeal, having stumbled between second and third, reminded that he wasn’t a triples hitter before he hurt his knee.
“He didn’t have enough air in that tire,” Prado said. “I give him credit for trying it. We’re happy with our guys, and it’s a great win for us.”
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