Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Want a winning baseball team? Look here

'Herschel,' the toy bank (in the shape of a Napoleanic military figure) that has become a good-luck charm of sorts for the University of Tampa baseball team. After every win, the players insert a Cuban peso (also called a cuc') into 'Herschel.'

Photo provided by Todd Montgomery

'Herschel,' the toy bank (in the shape of a Napoleanic military figure) that has become a good-luck charm of sorts for the University of Tampa baseball team. After every win, the players insert a Cuban peso (also called a cuc') into 'Herschel.'

Absorb the record for a moment or two. Let the cerebrum encircle it for a few laps. Say it out loud, let it roll off the tongue.

Just don't let it roll down the gullet. After all, 51-2 can be pretty difficult to swallow.

Even the record's proprietors, the University of Tampa's baseball players and coaches, struggle to attach reason to the preposterous.

"It's really hard to explain," senior infielder Tyler Ding said.

"I've just been almost waiting for when my moment's going to come to have to put my foot down to start sharpening things up when they fail, and they have not," added coach Joe Urso, whose club's pursuit of consecutive national titles continues today at the eight-team Division II Championship in Cary, N.C.

"And it's been amazing to go through a year and see guys stay focused all year like this. It's awesome."

Focus has been only one component. No team reaches 51-2 without a few streaks, staggering rallies, even superstitions. Here's a sampling of the elements that have propelled UT to this rarefied stratosphere.

Top 3 comebacks

The Spartans are 8-2 in games in which they trailed after six innings. Their three most notable rallies:

UT 5, Flagler 4 (March 25)

"Flagler came in here and absolutely dominated us for seven innings," said Urso, whose team trailed 4-0 at that point. Former Wharton High star Zach Gawrych helped kick-start the comeback with a run-scoring single in the two-run seventh, then hit a two-out, three-run homer in the eighth.

UT 8, South Carolina-Aiken 4 (Feb. 8)

Facing the nation's No. 2 team on the road in their fifth game of the season, the Spartans spotted the hosts a 4-0 lead before storming back and sealing things with a five-run ninth. "That kind of just set the tone for the rest of the season," said sophomore right-hander Trey Oest, Durant High's former ace. "We were facing one of their top closers (Caleb Smith), and we were able to come through and pull it out."

UT 9, Saint Leo 8, seven innings (March 8)

With the Spartans trailing 8-6 and down to their last out with nobody on base, No. 8 hitter Gio Alfonzo was hit by a pitch. Three singles, a passed ball, a wild pitch and two walks later, the Spartans had retaken the lead for good.


• Urso, who never has really enslaved himself to quirky rituals, has made one concession this year: After making out his lineup, he gives it to an assistant coach to post on the wall.

• Every game day, Oest wears a blue pair of "lucky" boxer shorts, with a pair of dice emblazoned on the front.

• Regardless of the direction from which he's arriving, Ding has entered the Martinez Center (UT's athletic complex) from a right-side door all season.

• After each win, the team drops a Cuban peso — known as a CUC — in a toy bank shaped like a portly Napoleonic military figure. Its nickname: Herschel (it's a long story).

By the numbers

.959 The Spartans' regular-season win percentage (47-2), an NCAA Division II record.

3 Victories needed to equal the program record for wins in a season, held by the 2006 team.

7 Everyday players hitting .310 or better.

18 Players on the roster who attended a bay area high school (Pinellas/Hillsborough/Hernando/Pasco).

21 Consecutive games won by the Spartans entering the national championship tourney.

78 Pitches needed by Oest in his one-hit, complete-game 3-0 win against Florida Southern in Sunday's South Region final.

.334 Team batting average, seventh-highest nationally among Division II teams.

Division II Championship

When: Today-May 31

Where: USA Baseball Complex, Cary, N.C.

Teams: Tampa, Southern Indiana, Lander, Chico State, Seton Hill, Minnesota State-Mankato, Colorado Mesa, St. Thomas Aquinas

Today's game: UT vs. Southern Indiana, 1 p.m.

Want a winning baseball team? Look here 05/23/14 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2014 10:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Raging Bull' boxer Jake LaMotta dies at 95


    Jake LaMotta, the former champion boxer whose life was immortalized by Robert DeNiro in the 1980 film Raging Bull, died Tuesday at age 95.

    Jake LaMotta and his fiance Denise arrive for the world premier of the critically acclaimed boxing drama "Ring Of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story" at the Beekman Theater in New York in 2005. LaMotta, whose life was depicted in the film "Raging Bull," died Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, at a Miami-area hospital from complications of pneumonia. He was 95. [Associated Press]
  2. J.R. Sweezy shows what Bucs were missing


    By Greg Auman

    TAMPA —- Sunday's season-opening win against the Bears saw the debut of 13 Bucs, a mix of rookies and free-agent veterans.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive guard J.R. Sweezy (73), seen at center, runs through drills during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, July 31, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  3. Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs-Vikings features a battle of top rookies


    Greg Auman looks at how much the Bucs have changed since the last time they played the Minnesota Vikings in 2014 in our latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) makes a reception as Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson (39) tackles him Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Late Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella was a fighter until the end

    Swimming Preps

    At swim meets, Cailin Cannella would race side-by-side with her breastroke competitors, their heads bobbing in near unison.

    Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella, here at age 13, still was practicing last year after finding out she had osteosarcoma (bone cancer). [Times 2016]
  5. Gators roundtable: Was that really a Hail Mary?


    Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks' last-second heave beat Tennessee Saturday in Gainesville, but was it a Hail Mary, typically a pass made in desperation with little chance of success? The Times' college football coveage team weighs in:


    Feleipe Franks #13 of the Florida Gators celebrates with his teammates after he threw a 63-yard pass at the end of the game to defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 26-20 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)