CARY, N.C. — The University of Tampa baseball team blasted its way out of the losers bracket with high-octane hitting. On Thursday, the Spartans turned to their pitching and defense to carry them to within one game of a return trip to the Division II championship game.
The defending-champion Spartans got a masterful performance from No. 4 starter Chase Sparkman and just enough timely hitting to beat Colorado Mesa 3-1 at the USA Baseball Training Complex.
The victory followed a much different script than UT’s two previous games, in which it amassed a combined 21 runs and 30 hits in wins against Chico State and Lander.
UT (54-3) and Colorado Mesa (46-12) play again at 1 p.m. today, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s title game.
“Whether it’s pitchers, a big hit or a big play defensively, we have different ways of winning a game,” Spartans shortstop Giovanny Alfonzo said. “Luckily we had Sparkman come out and pitch his game today. We’re all going to pat him on the back for that.”
Sparkman, who entered the game with a 3.96 ERA and one of the only three losses his team has suffered this season, kept the usually hard-hitting Mavericks off stride all day by changing speeds and keeping the ball around the plate.
The junior left-hander also got help from his fielders, especially catcher Nick Tindall, who threw two runners out on the bases during a third inning in which Colorado Mesa put two runners on with one out.
Sparkman struck out three and didn’t walk a batter while scattering six hits in 81⁄3⅓ innings in the longest outing of his college career.
“I didn’t want the team to go home on my account,” Sparkman said after UT staved off elimination for the third straight game. “I wanted to pitch good for them today. The defense backed me up really well.”
The bats eventually came through for him, too, but only after four scoreless innings against equally effective Mesa starter Ryan Reno and a pep talk from coach Joe Urso.
“We got into that fifth inning and started talking about championship-style baseball,” Urso said. “That means you’ve got to execute.”
All three of UT’s runs came as the result of a sacrifice bunt, a Mesa error or both. Zach Gawrych had two hits and two RBIs for the Spartans, while Stephen Dezzi and Michael Danner also had two hits.