CARY, N.C. — A season in which virtually everything went right for the Tampa baseball team ended with an inning in which everything went wrong.
The Spartans’ hopes for a return trip to the Division II College World Series title game came crashing down Friday in a comedy of errors that included two key miscues by usually reliable shortstop Giovanny Alfonzo and the winning run scoring on a sacrifice fly that barely left the infield.
Garrett Woodward slid home with the winning run to cap a late comeback that lifted Colorado Mesa to a 3-2 victory at the USA Baseball Training Complex.
It was a result that left stunned UT players littered across the field in disbelief and coach Joe Urso in tears as the defending national champs went down to defeat for the second time this week — the same number of losses they suffered in the previous 54 games combined.
“You look at how they scored their runs, and it will be something that’s going to eat at me for a long time,” said Urso, whose team led almost the whole game before allowing single runs in each of the final three innings.
Mesa (47-12) scored its first run with the help of an error by Nick Tindall on a play where the UT catcher tripped while chasing a bunt in front of the plate. The second was set up by a double that ticked off the tip of first baseman Sean O’Brien’s glove and veered into foul territory.
It was the decisive third one, however, that will be replayed over and over by Urso and his players during what promises to be a long summer and fall.
The trouble started with one out, when Woodward hit a ball into the hole between second and third. Alfonzo made the play going to his right, but his throw pulled O’Brien off the bag for an error.
The next hitter, Austin Wallingford, also hit the ball to short. This time, Alfonzo made the play going to his left. But instead of taking the sure out at first, he tried to throw across his body to cut down the lead runner at second.
That proved costly when the ball skipped past second baseman Orlando Rivera into right field, putting runners at the corners with one out.
For a brief moment, it appeared as though the Spartans might survive the jam and force extra innings.
With UT playing five men in the infield to try to prevent the winning run from scoring, reliever Kevin McNorton induced Kavan Elcock into a pop-up to short right.
But as a charging Zach Gawrych made the catch almost on the infield dirt, Woodward surprised everyone by tagging and heading for the plate. Gawrych’s throw was on target and had Woodward beat, but Tindall couldn’t handle it cleanly.
“Tampa’s got a great (pitching) staff, so I think our odds were better making them catch then sending another hitter to the plate with two outs,” Mesa coach Chris Hanks said. “There’s obviously some pressure on that throw. We got lucky there, but that’s part of this game.”