BY CANDACE MARTINO
The top-ranked Tampa Spartans baseball team saw their 12-game winning streak snapped this past weekend as they welcomed in rival Nova Southeastern Sharks for a three-game Sunshine State Conference (SSC) home stand.
The Spartans (21-3, 7-2) entered the series as one of the hottest teams in the nation at 20-1 and 6-0 in conference play, all thanks to the power hitting of center fielder Casey Scoggins and second baseman Laz Rivera. Scoggins is leading the Spartans hitting a .470 batting average with 39 hits on the season, closely followed by Rivera with a .455 batting average and 40 hits.
Not to mention the consistency from the mound, as the pitching staff boasts the best earned run average in the SSC. Tampa has four pitchers with ERAs (earned run averages) under 2.70, with Connor Andrews leading the team with a 1.86 ERA in 19 innings pitched. Reliable senior Michael Calkins has dominated in efficiency, with 30 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched, and is followed close behind by Chris Williams, who has 29 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched.
“I think we’ve surprised a lot of people,” Scoggins said. “No one thought we would hit as well as we are after losing so many key players. As for our pitching, our main guys out of the bullpen, [Chris] Williams and [Connor] Andrews, have been lights out.”
Game one of the series took the Spartans by surprise when the Sharks swam away with a 4-1 win Friday night. UT’s reliever Kevin Martin’s performance in the first inning held the sharks to one run right before.
Nova added a pair of runs in the fourth and sixth inning. Tampa’s lone run would come late in the game off of three NSU errors. The late game effort wouldn’t be nearly enough for Tampa to get the win.
“We knew [NSU] has a very good program, with that being said we knew we had a big series in front of us. We just did not execute any of our game plan that we had,” Martin said.
Martin provided 6 innings of relief, allowing just five hits and two earned runs.
Despite the three-hour rain delay on Saturday, the Spartans and the Sharks both split the SSC doubleheader. UT took the first game by a final score of 6-5 in extra innings, while the Sharks took control of game two, 7-4.
In game one, Tampa used a two-run push in the bottom of the 10th inning to take the win. Late in the first inning, Kevin Santa scored for UT on a J.D Osborne double to centerfield. NSU quickly responded with a run of their own before adding three runs in the top of the fourth. Santa, who hit a double to left field, sent two Spartans home, and shortly after tied the game on a wild pitch. NSU took advantage of the extra inning scoring an early run, until Osborne connected for his second double of the game that sent right fielder Danny Lee home.
“It’s always big to win a conference game. We want to host regionals, we want to win a championship. So every win is big especially when we have a chance to do damage in the ranking,” Scoggins said.
The Sharks bounced back quickly for the final game of the series, scoring two runs in the first inning off of a home run. Later, NSU r scored two more runs in the third and fourth inning to take a 4-0 lead. UT cut the deficit in half 4-2 from Matt Piatt’s RBI double. Both teams went scoreless in the seventh inning before Nova extended the lead 7-4 to end the game.
“This series showed us as a team what we need to work on. We clearly did not play Tampa baseball, but this is a learning experience. If we take care of this next series one game at a time and execute our game plan, we will be fine,” Martin said.
The Spartans will be back in action this Wednesday the 23rd, as they travel to Valdosta, Georgia to take on Valdosta State. UT will conclude the week in Daytona Beach for a matchup against Embry-Riddle.