MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The University of Tampa baseball program has a very storied history. UT previously won three Division II national championships and former Spartan alumni include Tino Martinez and Lou Piniella. But perhaps the most talented team to play at Tampa was this year’s Spartan team. UT (54-6) traveled to the College World Series (CWS) in Montgomery, Alabama with the best record in school history; the only thing left to accomplish was to win their fourth national championship.
UT won their first game of the CWS in dramatic fashion over the third ranked Francis Marion Patriots. Sergio Perez pitched a gem through seven innings, surrendering just one run on three hits. The game was tied at three going into the bottom the eighth when Lee Cruz blasted a home run to center field giving the Spartans a 4-3 lead. UT held on to the lead as Aaron Cook finished the game for Tampa, picking up his seventh win of the season.
Next up for the Spartans were the fourth ranked Montevallo Falcons. Once again UT found themselves in a tight contest. After a strong pitching performance from Ross Jackson, the score was tied 4-4 entering the bottom of the ninth. With two outs and Ryan Kennedy on second base, the Falcons decided to intentionally walk Division II National Player of the Year Cruz and pitch to freshman Jose Jimenez. Jimenez made the Falcons pay with a walk off game winning single up the middle.
With a win against twelfth ranked Franklin Pierce UT would advance to the Division II National Championship game. Coming into the contest with the Ravens, UT expected another close game; the Spartans won an earlier meeting 9-8 against Franklin Pierce. Tampa opted to start ace Perez (11-2) knowing just how important this game would be. UT dominated from the beginning, blowing out the Ravens 13-3. Cruz connected on two home runs in the game giving him 26 home runs for the season. This broke Tino Martinez’s previous record of 25 long balls in a single season.
With the win Tampa advanced to the Division II Championship game against the fifth ranked California State University Chico Wildcats. UT had a far different path to the championship than Chico State. The Wildcats got off to a great start winning 17 of their first 20 games, but proceeded to go 16-16 over the next 32 games limping into the playoffs. The lack of effort forced Wildcats coach Lindsay Meggs to kick his team out of the locker room during the middle of the season. Meggs fired up his team and got them playing the type of baseball that they were at the beginning of the season.
Chico State struck first with a run off of Tampa starter Jackson in the bottom of the second. This was a huge run because both teams had great pitchers on the mound and it looked like it would be difficult to produce many runs. Tampa got the run back in the top of the sixth tying the game at one run apiece. Roberto Mena lead off with a double to left center and scored after Kennedy reached on an error by Wildcats shortstop Jesus Luna.
Chico State took the lead back in the bottom of the eighth after a clutch two out single to right by Daniel Code. Tampa entered the top of the ninth down 2-1 with the season on the line. It didn’t look good for the Spartans when JR Hopf and Chris Ignaut grounded out to start the inning. Tampa was down to its last out when Craig Corrado came up with a huge two out hit. Mena followed with an infield hit and Tampa was in business with runners on first and second and two outs. Leadoff hitter Troy Ferguson came up with the biggest hit of his career as he singled through the left side scoring Corrado tying the game at 2-2. Kennedy had a chance to win the game but flew out to left field.
Closer Aaron Cook shut down the Wildcats in the bottom of the ninth, retiring the side three up-three down forcing extra innings. In the top the tenth Cruz started things for the Spartans with a one out hit down the right field line. Jimenez then flew out to center field for the second out in the inning. Chico State proceeded to make a huge mistake walking Hopf and allowing the go ahead runner into scoring position. Chris Rosenbaum then stepped to the plate to pinch hit for defensive replacement Charley Raley. Rosenbaum, a back up catcher, came through with an RBI single in his first at bat at the CWS giving UT a 3-2 lead.
After pitching a complete game against Franklin Pearce just two days earlier, Perez came in to close the game for the Spartans in the bottom of the ninth. Perez picked up his first career save as he and UT celebrated winning their fourth national championship. Perez, Ferguson, Hopf, Mena and Cruz were named to the all tournament team. Division II Rawlings/American Baseball Coaches Association Player of the year Cruz was named tournament MVP.
RANK UNIV, RECORD, PTS, PREVIOUS RANKING 1. Tampa, 50-6, 480, 1. 2. Emporia State, 48-11, 458, 9. 3. Francis Marion, 41-16, 440, 12. 4. Montevallo, 41-16, 426, 22. 5. Cal State Chico, 43-19, 420, 21. 6. Ashland, 47-15, 396, 20 7. Georgia College ‘ State, 53-12, 386, 2. 8. Catawba, 47-14, 368, 4. 9. Grand Valley State, 47-10, 356, 3. 10. West Chester, 38-18, 338, RV