With a 7-4 victory over defending NCAA D-II champs West Chester University last Tuesday, the University of Tampa baseball team approached the halfway mark of their 2013 campaign with confidence.
The Spartans came out ready to prove that they are serious contenders this year. In what was a tight game the whole way through, UT out-hit West Chester just enough to come away with the win. Head Coach Joe Urso saw the victory as a definite confidence builder for the team as they enter the second half of the season.
“Any time you have a chance to play the defending national champions you get excited,” Urso said. “Our guys came out and played well. I was real happy with the way everything progressed, with the starting pitching and the bullpen, to get that W.”
The team followed up their big win on Tuesday with a 9-7 victory over Franklin Pierce on Wednesday, and a double-header sweep (4-1, 17-3) of conference foe Rollins on Saturday. The Spartans took the third game of the series against Rollins to win their sixth in a row and 11th of their last 12.
UT enters the second half of the season at 7-2 in the Sunshine State Conference. They are just half a game up on longtime rival Florida Southern College (6-3). Although the two teams have not yet met this season, and FSC has a sub par overall record of 12-14, Coach Urso has had his eye on them. “Florida Southern has more titles than any other team in Division II baseball,” said Urso. “They have always been our rival, it doesn’t matter what their record is, or what our record is, and we both know when we play each other every year because the guys get excited for the rivalry.” UT must wait until April 5 to meet their rivals, which is when they kick off a three game series.
One big reason the Spartans have been so successful this year is the hitting of Tyler Ding. Batting .408 through 27 games, the Junior utility player has been consistent at the plate. Coach Urso is not surprised by the development of Ding has a hitter.
“I think he’s always been a great hitter going back to his high school days,” said Urso. “He’s hitting to the opposite field really well, and he’s in a good groove right now.” In addition to being the team leader in batting average, Ding is tied for the team lead in hits (31), and is among the team leaders in RBI’s.
“I just think I’m getting lucky,” Ding said with a smile when asked what he attributes to his success this year.
Not to be outdone by Ding and the offense this season, the Spartans pitching staff has been another huge component to their success. A strong starting rotation, led by freshman David Heintz who is 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA, is complemented by a reliable bullpen. Mike Adams (Jr.) has been a very trustworthy option for Coach Urso out of the pen so far.
“Adams has been real solid for us; he’s thrown a lot of strikes, he has a really good curveball, and he’s done a really good job all around,” said Urso. He went on to say just how important having both quality starting pitchers as well as a talented bullpen is. “Great teams are built around their pitching staffs. Coach Militello has developed a system where these guys are like a minor league team in the sense that they’re on a pitch count. This helps to not just rely on the starters, but to also develop a strong bullpen; most DII teams don’t have that.”
Even with success to this point, Adams realizes that there are still some things to work on moving forward.
“We’re giving up a lot of 0-2 hits, so when we’re ahead in the count we definitely need to improve upon that,” the reliever said.
Coach Urso pointed out that although playing well, his squad needs to develop even more of a killer instinct.
“When we get chances to put teams away we need to do that,” Urso said fiercely. “When the bases are loaded, we need to be able to get that extra hit to separate the score more.”
UT baseball will attempt to continue their win streak while on the road for the next couple weeks, including a three-game series at Barry this weekend. The team will be back at home on April 9 to take on Embry-Riddle.