The No. 2 ranked baseball team has been on a roller-coaster ride of Sunshine State Conference (SSC) play as they recently fell to Valdosta State University in a midweek regional contest, came back to sweep all three games in a conference series against Eckerd College, then were defeated by Nova Southeastern in a three game series played in Ft. Lauderdale.
The March 25 loss to the Valdosta State Blazers was in the hands of the away team’s pitching staff, as the Spartans were slow offensively, allowing themselves only four hits that night. Junior third baseman Nick Flair contributed to the hits, helping the Spartans jump on the board hitting a three-run homer over the left-centerfield fence, giving the Spartans a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the third inning.
The Blazers then came in strong in the sixth inning, scoring three runs off four hits and taking a 4-3 lead. The Blazers managed to hold the Spartans scoreless in the bottom of the inning, then returned to score with a two-run homer in the top of the seventh, taking a 6-3 lead. With a scoreless eighth inning for both teams, the Blazers then came back in the ninth, despite a three-run lead, and added four runs on three hits and two walks, extending the score to their winning lead of 10-3.
With the loss being a learning experience for the Spartans, they quickly started to work on preventing another defeat. “I feel like after the loss to Valdosta we realized that we needed to change up some things in order to come out of this drought we have been in,” senior shortstop and captain Giovanny Alfonzo said. “Since then we expect perfection in practice, games, and off the field trying to be more disciplined in order to have a good outcome on game day.”
Perfection was in their favor as that weekend they took to their home field and defeated the Eckerd College Tritons in a three game weekend series. Major contributions came from junior pitcher David Heintz, who led the game from the mound in game one, pitching 6.2 innings and allowing just one run on five hits.
Hits from senior catchers Nick Tindall and Keaton Aldridge, Alfonzo, freshman first baseman Paxton Simmons, and singles from junior outfielder Casey Scoggins and senior outfielder Brett Jones all contributed to the Spartans’ 11-5 win for the first game. As senior pitcher Chase Sparkman started off game two, the men rallied over the Tritons once again, in a strong offensively played game that ended with the Spartans defeating the Tritons with a winning 21-8 finish. The teams finished off in a final game the next day, with Tampa taking the series with a final 3-1 finish for game three.
“We swept Eckerd and it felt like we started to get things rolling,” Alfonzo said. “We have a lot of conference games to finish off the year so we are focused on taking one game at a time. With that mindset we will set ourselves up for the playoffs.”
Determined and ready to handle business, the Spartans traveled to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. for what was considered to be the most important series of the season for them as the Nova Southeastern Sharks were tied with the Spartans for first place in the SSC conference. However, the Spartans’ SSC ranking dropped to number two as the Sharks defeated the Spartans in both the April 2 doubleheader and April 3 final game.
Coming in strong in game one, the Spartans jumped on the board immediately scoring four runs in the top of the first inning. By the top of the fourth inning the Spartans had scored one again were leading the Sharks 5-2 until the bottom of the fifth when the Sharks retaliated with four runs on four hits making it a 6-2 lead. Tampa managed to come back and tie the game in the seventh inning at 6-6 but with a scoreless eighth inning, the Sharks refused defeat, scoring in the ninth inning to win 7-6.
Putting up a fight once again in a doubleheader the next day, Tampa fell to the Sharks 10-5 in game one and lost again with a score of 7-6 in game two. Up until the weekend series, the Spartans had not lost two games in a Sunshine State Conference series since the 2012 season and had not been swept since 2011 when Tampa lost a three game series to the Barry Buccaneers.
“Anytime you lose a series like this it hurts…it’s definitely not what we had planned for the series but it’s baseball and anything can happen at any time,” senior captain Stephen Dezzi said. “I’m disappointed that our efforts fell short but the season is far from done. We’re going to get right back on track this week and fight until the last out because that’s what Tampa Baseball does. This is just a minor setback for a major comeback.”
Regina Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org