And that means starting freshman Nico Giarratano (St. Ignatius) at shortstop.
“If I didn’t play him, I’d have to sleep on the couch,” Giarratano said, joking (sort of). “So if you guys want to sleep on the couch, don’t play your son.”
But japes aside, San Francisco returns 12 players off a team that finished 35-24 a year ago and lost in the Eugene Regional. Two returning players are the team’s most formidable sluggers in junior Bradley Zimmer and senior Zach Turner.
Preseason All-American Zimmer batted .320 with seven homers last season and will start in center field when the Dons open up at UC Riverside on Friday. Turner, the senior, who batted .333 with 76 hits, eight home runs and 62 RBIs — all team highs — will man first base.
“Zach’s the best right-handed hitter in the West,” Giarratano said.
Turner starred at Serra High School in San Mateo and later tore his right rotator cuff while starting his college career at Pepperdine. The injury forced him back to the community college ranks, and eventually he transferred to USF.
“The adversity that he faced made him the type of hitter that he is,” Giarratano said.
“I try to be a sponge,” Turner said of coach Giarratano and associate head coach Troy Nakamura. “They’re two guys that know more about hitting than a lot of us will ever know in a lifetime.”
Filling out the lineup will be sophomore catcher Ryan Matranga, junior Bob Cruikshank at third, junior Brendan Hendriks in left field and junior Derek Atkinson in right field. Freshman Matt Sinatro and sophomore Michael Eaton will vie for second base.
Lineup aside, USF sports a balanced arsenal of arms — six left-handers and six right-handers.
Senior right-hander Abe Bobb, who won his last six starts last season, will start the opener Friday. Junior Christian Cecilio will take the mound Saturday, while junior-college transfer Matt Narahara gets the nod Sunday. Seniors Ben Graff and Houston Hibberd will compete for the closer role.
USF will need a good starting staff if it is going to survive a grueling nonconference schedule before West Coast Conference action begins.
The Dons will host No. 18 Kansas State, then visit No. 1 Cal State Fullerton for three games before traveling to Stanford. They also face Arkansas before hosting No. 11 Oregon.
“We’re gonna be tested day in and day out to see what we’re capable of, if we can survive early in the season,” Giarratano said.