In the biggest game of the season and with a trip to the Division II College World Series on the line, Tampa coach Joe Urso had to make some of the most difficult decisions a manager has to make.
Faced with a depleted pitching staff and an even thinner bullpen, Urso decided to give closer Jonathan Holt the start, even though Holt had pitched all three days prior to the championship game. Holt, arguably Tampa’s best pitcher, made his first career start in Sunday’s South Region Championship game against rival Florida Southern.
Urso pulled out all the stops, electing to use freshman starter Anthony Perez in long relief despite the fact Perez was on just two days rest.
In the top of the 10th inning with the score tied at five and runners on first and second with no outs, Urso even gave slugger Jose Jimenez the bunt sign.
Jimenez worked the count to 3-1, before fouling off a bunt attempt.
The Spartans were lucky Jimenez failed to move the runners over.
On the next pitch Jimenez launched a high fly ball off the scoreboard, a three-run home run, to give UT an 8-5 lead. Tampa, the away team, would go on to win by the same score.
It was difficult to tell whether the Spartans had just won the National Championship or the South Regional after the game. The players piled on top of each other, but they certainly had reason to celebrate.
There is always a lot of emotion in the playoffs and when there is a trip to Montgomery, Ala. on the line, but couple that with the fact that Tampa and Florida Southern have perhaps the biggest rivalry in Division II sports and it was easy to see why the Spartans were so elated after the victory.
Anthony Perez looked a lot like Sergio Perez as he dominated the final five innings allowing just two hits and striking out six. After struggling at the beginning of the season he has been one of Tampa’s most consistent players in the playoffs. With the win he improved his record to 6-0 on the year.
Perez, Holt, Jimenez, Craig Corrado and Nolan Brannon made the All-South Region team. Holt was named the tournament MVP.
UT will return to action on Friday, May 25 against the West regional champion, either Mesa State or Cal State Los-Angeles.
Notes: Tampa defeated Stillman, No. 30 Carson-Newman, 10th ranked Tusculum and 17th ranked Florida Southern to advance to the College World Series.
The Spartans have won four National Championships in school history. The only other Sunshine State Conference team to have won a baseball national title is Florida Southern. The Mocs have nine National Championships.