Friday, June 22, 2018
Sports

Tampa baseball wins Division II national title

CARY, N.C. — Tampa captured its sixth NCAA Division II baseball championship Saturday night, defeating Minnesota State Mankato 8-2.

The Spartans (47-12) outscored their opponents 40-14 and capped the tournament with a dominating performance over the Mavericks in front of 2,478 at Coleman Field.

"Just so proud of this group," Joe Urso said after capturing his third national title as Spartans coach. "They did everything we asked from them. (Starting pitcher) Jon Keller came out and set the tone for us."

Keller (6-3) allowed six hits and one run over seven innings, striking out five to help clinch UT's first national title since 2007. The 6-foot-5 junior right-hander, a transfer from Nebraska, was elated to earn his first college championship.

"It's been unbelievable," Keller said. "The opportunity to come to Tampa, it's been a blessing."

Minnesota State (42-9) was in its first title game. It was only the second meeting between the teams — the Mavericks won 6-2 in the 1986 NCAA Tournament over a Spartans team that included Tino Martinez.

Tampa's previous national titles were 1992-93, '98, and back-to-back under Urso in 2006-07.

Jake Schrader, a former Pasco High standout, was named the tournament's most outstanding player. The two-time Tampa Bay Times All-North Suncoast player of the year went 2-for-3 in the final and hit .444 (8-for-18) with two home runs, seven RBIs and a .944 slugging percentage in five games in the national championship tournament.

UT's Zach Gawrych, Jacob Tillotson, and Mike Adams joined him on the all-tournament team.

The Spartans got started in the bottom of the second when Sean O'Brien got their first hit and B.J. Zimmerman followed with a single. Schrader's double scored O'Brien for the first run. A double down the third-base line from Gawrych scored Zimmerman and Schrader against Mavericks starter Harvey Martin, who had come in 9-0.

An overthrow from Martin allowed Gawrych to advance and Adam Pendleton's double scored him. With no outs, Martin, the D-II pitcher of the year, was pulled after 28 pitches. Connor Obrochta singled to left off reliever TJ Larson, scoring Pendleton to make it 5-0.

"That was huge," Pendleton said of the big inning. "We just came out and were aggressive. … We got some timely hits, and it just worked out for us to get (Martin) out of the game."

The Mavericks scored a run in the fourth, but the Spartans answered in the bottom half as Gawrych scored on a sac fly by Michael Danner.

Minnesota State cut the lead to 8-2 in the ninth, and Urso made one more change on the mound, bringing in Aaron Gerbasi. Gerbasi got Jon Heiderscheit to fly out to second baseman Lucas Skjefte as the Spartans poured onto the field to celebrate.

"My fear coming into this year was that I knew I had a special group of guys," Urso said. "I just wanted this to end well for them. This will go down as my favorite team ever. I didn't think anyone would ever beat that 2006 team. That's how proud I am of these young men."

The Spartans are scheduled to arrive at Tampa International Airport at 11:30 a.m. today via Southwest Airlines.

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