Spartans returning to Division II World Series
Jake Schrader backtracked into foul territory along the third base line to position under the pop fly. As that baseball hit his glove, the University of Tampa third baseman threw his hat off and ran to the pitcher’s mound.
It took nearly seven hours, but the Spartans finally won the South Regional championship Sunday, defeating West Florida 20-7 to cap a grueling, two-game day.
It was the Spartans’ 15th South Regional championship, and for a team rich with winning history, they advance to the Division II College World Series in Cary, N.C. Tampa will face Coker on Sunday.
“I’ve never been part of a (celebration) dog pile,” said Schrader, who hit a three-run homer in the sixth and finished with four RBIs. “(I’m) speechless (I got the last out), but I loved being at the bottom of that dog pile. It’s why I can’t stop grinning.”
Schrader and his teammates on the No. 2-ranked team in the country had plenty of reasons to grin Sunday, as they bounced back after losing the first game 7-2. After an hour of regrouping in the locker room, the Spartans (43-11) returned to the field and did what they do best: score plenty of runs.
“Not once did they lower their heads because of Game 1,” said 13th-year Tampa coach Joe Urso, who has led the Spartans to eight South Regional titles. “No one was going to come on to our field and beat us twice. The offense just grinds and grinds and they’ll wear you out.”
The Spartans and the Argos played three times between Saturday and Sunday, scoring a combined 62 runs that included Tampa rallying to beat West Florida 15-11 on Saturday. After scoring just two runs in the first game on a two-run homer by Schrader, the Spartans came out swinging in the second game and built a 7-0 lead by the third.
“We just played as a team like we have all year,” said Gaither High product and Spartans left fielder Michael Danner, who hit a three-run double in the sixth. “We said we had to keep grinding and go after them. … This means the world to me, to jump in a pile with those guys and keep moving on. There’s no better feeling.”
The Argos (39-14) mounted a comeback of sorts, putting up five runs in the top of the fourth. But Urso turned to senior reliever Aaron Gerbasi, who struck out seven in 31/3 innings, including the side after loading the bases in the seventh. Fellow reliever David Heintz also pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth.
The Spartans got three RBIs from catcher Adam Pendleton, the regional’s Most Outstanding Player who caught 44 of the Spartans’ 45 innings during the four-day tourney.
“We just grinded and battled for five games, and Urso said the result of all that would be a championship, which we got,” Pendleton said.