SAN FRANCISCO — University of San Francisco head baseball coach Nino Giarratano today announced the release of his program’s 2011 schedule, which features 15 games against a total of seven 2010 NCAA Tournament teams and four games to be played at AT&T Park.
“I think the schedule is one of the toughest in the county,” Giarratano said. “It’s really going to test us as far as — can we be an NCAA caliber team and how will we hold up on the road against regional-caliber clubs and teams that are going to have high RPIs? The schedule is set up for us to build our RPI. If we can stay above .500 and can win the games we are capable of winning, it gives us an opportunity to put ourselves into a regional as an NCAA tournament at-large bid.”
The Dons open their season on the road with a series against 2010 NCAA Tournament Runner-up UCLA at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18 at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. UCLA set a school record in single-season wins with 51 last year; ending the season with a best-of-three series loss to South Carolina in the national championship game. The two teams play again on Saturday and Sunday with first pitches scheduled for 2 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.
San Francisco’s schedule consists of 26 road games, 22 home contests and seven neutral-site games. The Dons will play 31 of their 55 games within 84 miles of the USF campus this season.
“I think it’s great that this year we’ve balanced out the schedule, playing 22 home games along with the seven neutral games,” Giarratano said. “That’s something we haven’t had during the past three or four years. It’s always great to try to play more games at home each and every year at Benedetti Diamond.”
The Dons are set to play in two tournaments: the Cardinal Classic in Beaumont, TX on March 3-5 and the AT&T Tournament hosted by AT&T Park and the Cal Bears on March 11-13. USF begins the Cardinal Classic with a game on Thursday against host Lamar University, which played in the Fort Worth Regional in 2010, followed by a game against New Mexico State on Friday and a doubleheader against New Mexico State and Cal State Northridge on Saturday.
USF opens the AT&T Tournament against New Mexico State, followed by games against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara.
“The AT&T tournament is one we’ve been working on now for years to figure out how to bring in teams with good RPIs to play in the Bay Area and share that opportunity,” Giarratano said. “And the Cardinal Classic is an opportunity to play some really good teams away from home.”
After back-to-back tournament weekends, the Dons re-visit AT&T Park to take part in the 5th Annual Dante Benedetti Classic at 7 p.m. on March 15 against San Jose State. It will be the Dons’ fourth game at AT&T Park in five days.
The Dons will play a non-conference series at Arizona, a perennial Pac-10 power that played in the Fort Worth Regional last year, on March 19-21. USF also travels to Fresno State, the 2008 NCAA National Champions, on April 1-3. San Francisco is set to face Pacific three times this season: at home on March 26-27 and on the road on March 25th.
Oregon, a Norwich Regional team from last season, and USF play will play twice this season. The first game is set for March 23 at Benedetti Diamond and the second at PK Park on April 18 in Eugene, OR. The Dons also play a second game against San Jose State on April 12 at Muni Stadium in San Jose.
USF has two games scheduled against Bay Area rival California; the first at Cal on March 16 and the second at Benedetti Diamond on April 29. The Bears played in the Norman Regional in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
On March 8, the Dons welcome Sacramento State to the Hilltop. San Francisco State travels cross-town to Benedetti Diamond on April 26 and on May 17th the Dons travel to Sunken Diamond to face Stanford, which competed in the Fullerton Regional last season.
“From an experience standpoint: playing at UCLA to open the year (where they are coming off a national championship game), having the opportunity to play at AT&T Park four games in a row during a five-day period, then traveling to Arizona to play in its atmosphere, then traveling back to UOP and going to Fresno State where they’ve had wonderful crowds and great support,” Giarranto said. “I think that puts us in a great position to start conference play. It will be a good experience for our players to be in those venues.”
San Francisco kicks off its West Coast Conference schedule by hosting Saint Mary’s for a series on April 8-10 at Benedetti Diamond.
Including the Saint Mary’s series, the Dons host four WCC homestands. Rival Santa Clara comes to the Hilltop April 21-23, followed by Loyola Marymount April 29-May 1. The final WCC weekend at Benedetti Diamond features Pepperdine on May 13-15.
USF travels to Portland on April 15-17, then heads to defending WCC champion and Tempe Regional participant San Diego on May 6-8 and Gonzaga on May 27-29.
“The WCC has been tough — it’s a great conference,” Giarratano said. “The University of San Diego has been the dominant team in the conference over the last three or four years and unfortunately we have to go to USD to play, which is always a tough place to play. And we have to go to Gonzaga, which is an extremely difficult place to play and it’s tough to get wins at Portland.”
Last year, USF’s strength of schedule was ranked 23rd toughest in the country out of 301 Division I teams by Boyd’s World (boydsworld.com) and third toughest in the WCC.