By: Shane Petagna
The University of Tampa’s baseball team begins the 2022 season as the number one ranked team in all of Division II baseball in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) preseason poll. The Spartans are also favored to repeat as Sunshine State Conference (SSC) champions.
Tampa won the university’s 20th SSC championship, and 14th under legendary head coach Joe Urso in 2021 thanks to a 15-3 record in conference play. The Spartans are eager to repeat once again in 2022.
Tampa is one of the most storied programs in all Division II baseball. The Spartans have eight national championships, with the most recent one coming in 2019. That number puts them second all-time behind only SSC rival Florida Southern.
Tampa looks to avenge their loss in the semi-finals of last season’s national tournament, where they fell to eventual runner-up Central Missouri in a win-or-go-home game.
“It’s very important to try to be the best at whatever you’re doing,” said Urso in an article with Fox 13. “If we’re able to get number nine, it will mean a lot to me.”
Tampa is bringing back most of the roster from 2021, including eight from the starting lineup and all three starting pitchers from the rotation. It is also important to note that nine transfers from Division I schools joined the Spartans in the offseason.
Outfielder E.J. Cumbo leads the charge for Tampa’s bats.
According to NCAA DII analyst Wayne Cavadi, Cumbo is one of the best hitters in Division II.
Cumbo led starters in 2021 with a .388 batting average, in addition to slugging percentage, home runs, extra-base hits, and RBIs. Simply put, he can do it all in the batter’s box.
The rest of the Spartan outfield is not to be overlooked, however. Luke Glancy is a big power bat in the lineup. The lefty outfielder’s .639 slugging percentage was the second highest for the Spartans last season.
Rounding out the outfield is sophomore Jamarcus Lyons. He is listed at 5 feet 8 inches and 220 pounds, with lots of pop.
“I’ve watched about three practices this spring,” said Patrick Faith, freshman finance major. “Lyons impresses me, he’s always putting balls out in batting practice.”
Another name to watch out for is Jordan Lala, who transferred from the University of Miami. He started 45 games for the Hurricanes last year and is a great base stealer.
Lala is listed as an outfielder, so there will be competition for playing time on such a deep and talented roster.
Graduate student Drew Erhard has spent his entire collegiate career at Tampa and compliments the lineup. The utility player posted a .356 batting average last season and finished second on the team in RBIs with 24. Erhard’s leadership and experience should impact the team in multiple ways over the course of the season.
On the pitching side, some new names will have to step up after Jordan Leasure was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the MLB draft. Leasure led the nation in earned run average (ERA) and led the team with 60 strikeouts. However, the Spartans had a top-10 pitching staff in that category last season.
Eric Linder is one of the returning starters from 2021. He had the second-most innings pitched paired with an ERA of 2.88.
Junior Michael Paul, who started the most games for Tampa last season, is back as well. Paul struck out 46 batters over 53.0 innings and limited opponents to just a .244 batting average against him.
Drew Martin is a graduate transfer from Eckerd College and should be one of the many arms to bolster the pitching staff after Leasure’s departure.
Opening Day for the Spartans was in Milledgeville, GA for a three-game series against Georgia College Bobcats that started on Feb. 4. Their home opener will be on Friday, Feb. 11 against Georgia Southwestern.