BY JACK YOUNG
Six straight wins, a national championship to defend and a major league team to beat again. Those are just a few of the highlights that come to mind when looking at the Spartan baseball team. This veteran squad only has one freshman and six sophomores on their 34 player roster, explaining why there is no lack of momentum transferring to this season from last.
It all seems to start at home plate. With 76 hits, 54 runs and a team batting average of .342, the offense is taking pressure off of the already-dominant pitching staff. Much like last year, senior center fielder Casey Scoggins is leading the team with .500 batting average, 10 runs and no strikeouts.
“Our approach at the plate has been consistent and it has been pretty evident,” junior catcher J.D. Osborne said. With eight hits, nine runs batted in and three home runs to his name, his work speaks for itself.
As of now, Tampa is the only team in the Sunshine State Conference with six wins. The only other team undefeated in their conference, with half as many games played, is Saint Leo University.
“The quick start is just a bi-product of all the hard work we have put in through the fall,” Osborne said.
During their first weekend battle, the Tampa Spartans hosted Bentley College in home territory. This was the first game into the season and the teams were moving early. Bentley came out in the first inning and put one up on the board, but that’s all it took for the Spartans to start clicking.
Through the next seven innings the Spartans put up seven runs, including a first home run for Osborne. The Spartans didn’t allow another run until the last inning, and closed it out in fashion by shutting down Bentley in the 9th.
The next game saw no lack of offense–from Tampa’s side that is. The Spartans put up 16 runs through eight innings, and didn’t allow any runs until the ninth. The game was dominated by the batters with nine players having runs batted in.
To conclude the series, the pitching crew of Brad Hencke, Kevin Martin and Nick Nolan allowed only four hits, two walks and no runs, sending Bentley back home with nothing but things to work on. The Spartans got a well deserved, five day break until their next weekend series at Georgia College.
“We are a team that builds off each other,” senior pitcher Kevin Martin said. “That’s the momentum that keeps us going from series to series.”
This proved to be true as the Spartans traveled north.
Arriving at Milledgeville, Ga., the Spartans had quick work. On Saturday, Feb. 6 the Spartans had a somewhat challenging doubleheader against Georgia College. After being tied up after the first inning, Georgia jumped ahead 4-2 in the third. Casey Scoggins hit a single to center field allowing Mitchell Preston and Osborne to score, giving them the go ahead run. The Spartans put up another run in the following inning and never looked back, finishing the game with a 6-4 win.
Both teams only had about a quick half hour before getting ready for their second game of the day. This time the Bobcats meant business, putting up three runs by the end of the first and only allowing the Spartans to put up one. In the second inning, the Spartans responded by putting up two more, tying it up. In the third the Bobcats put up one more run and held their lead until the seventh inning. After loading up the bases Adrian Chacon walked and allowed Casey Scoggins to advance home to tie it up. Then in the ninth inning Kevin Santa found home for the game winning run.
This was only the beginning of the excitement that followed the next day. Georgia had no intention of losing the last game of the series. The game had everything: wild pitches, costly errors, and above all, a lot of entertaining baseball. It wasn’t until the 11th inning that the fans saw the end of the drama. Kevin Santa and Ricky Negron each hit homers that sealed the win for the Tampa Spartans 16-14.
“We preach that a lot, the importance of winning these regional games early in the year on the road,” head coach Joe Urso said. “I hope to just continue the tradition that has been here for a long time, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to continue it, as a coach.”