By DEVON CONWAY
Buy some peanuts and cracker jacks, The University of Tampa baseball is back. The No. 2 Spartans battled the Bentley University Falcons from Massachusetts. The home opener took place at the UT baseball field. The Spartans have won four consecutive season opener games against the Falcons. With a final score of 8-0, the Spartans have extended their season opener winning streak to five wins against Bentley. The Spartans lead the all-time series with Bentley 15-1.
“This opening weekend is always a lot of fun. We get to play with wooden bats but it’s great for our players since we try to get as many guys in the lineup,” head coach Joe Urso said. “We get to see what guys can be in the lineup everyday.”
In the Sunshine State Conference (SSC), players use metal bats, so playing a team from up north that regularly uses wooden bats is exciting for the Spartans, since this is the one series where they can do so. Another interesting factor about the home opener was the ceremonial first pitch. Kevin Kiermaier, the center fielder from the Tampa Bay Rays, threw out the first pitch and cheered for the Spartans during the entire game.
Another big factor of the game was Spartans pitcher, Garrett Cave. Cave, a current junior transfer from Florida International University, has been a rising star for the Spartans. Cave is among the 2017 Baseball America Top MLB Draft Prospects, currently ranked 56th. Multiple MLB scouts attended the home opener, scouting Cave. At the game, Cave pitched four innings and recorded 10 strikeouts and only allowed two hits. Cave was also named the SSC Pitcher of the Week thanks to his impressive performance on the mound.
Other key players for the Spartans include second base senior Laz Rivera, who was named to the second team of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers as a preseason All-American. Senior pitcher Chris Williams was also named to the NCBWA preseason All-American as honorable mention.
The first three innings of the game remained scoreless. To start off the third inning, Junior utility Darren Miller doubled, which lead to senior first baseman Adrian Chacon ripping an RBI triple that plated Rivera. UT baseball took the lead 1-0. Senior J.D. Osborne roped an RBI single that brought Chacon home and set UT at 2-0. As the hits and runs added up, UT lead Bentley 4-0 in the fifth. Junior pitcher Cody Martin came in from the bullpen to relieve Cave in the top of the fifth.
Senior pitcher Chris McCormick made an appearance for the Spartans pitching one and a half innings, facing 10 batters from Bentley. Right hand junior pitcher, Cheyne Bickel made his debut for the Spartans with a strikeout to close out the top of the eighth inning. Osborne smoked a two run double that brought home Rivera and senior shortstop Kevin Santa, making UT lead Bentley 6-0 in the eighth.
Senior catcher Chris Gaffney rocked an RBI single that brought home senior out fielder Vin Cosenzo and set the game at 8-0. This score marked the end of the exciting battle between the Spartans and the Falcons.
“This was an exciting game for us Spartans,” said senior pitcher Nick Nolan. “We look forward to this season and we have our sights set on a National Championship.”
This season, under winning head coach Joe Urso, the Spartans are on another quest for its eighth National Championship win in program history. A highlight for UT this season is their game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Feb. 23 at Bright House Field in Clearwater as the Spartans set their sights on playing in Grand Prairie, Texas starting May 27 for the National Championship series.