Division II battle begins today

Published May 18, 1990|Updated Oct. 17, 2005

Don't worry about having to arrive early for the Division II South Region baseball tournament, which begins today at the University of Tampa. Despite the tournament's history of showcasing future major-league talent and this year's field, which includes three of the top 10 teams in the country, UT officials are only expecting an average of 500 fans at Sam Bailey Field for the three sessions this weekend. A total of 800 people attended last year's tournament, which was completed in two days.

Florida Southern, Rollins and Tampa, the three schools participating in this year's regional, have produced a number of major-league stars, as have other colleges in the Sunshine State Conference. The SSC has sent a team to the Division II College World Series in Montgomery, Ala., every year since the league was founded in 1975.

And each of the schools in this year's South regional has appeared in the Division II College World Series in the past three years.

"Division II baseball is good baseball," said Tampa first baseman Paul Russo, an All-American who won the SSC triple crown last year with a .401 batting average, 22 home runs and 81 runs batted in and leads the conference in average (.442) and home runs (18) this season. Russo is projected as an early-round selection in next month's amateur draft.

"Our conference can compete with any Division I school," said Russo, whose team went 5-2 this season against Division I schools. "We've proved we can play with the big boys."

Florida Southern (40-10), ranked third in the country, won the SSC with a 17-7 record this year. The Moccasins are making their 22nd consecutive regional appearance and have captured 15 regional championships and seven national titles, more than any other Division II school. They last won it all in 1988.

Florida Southern players who have made the majors include Greg Pryor, a journeyman infielder who last played with Kansas City; Andy McGaffigan, a long-time pitcher with Montreal who was released by San Francisco earlier this year; and Cincinnati bullpen ace Rob Dibble.

No. 6-ranked Tampa (40-12) is making its fifth regional appearance in a row and sixth overall. The Spartans have gone to Montgomery twice, placing second in 1987.

Cincinnati Reds manager Lou Piniella attended the University of Tampa. Tino Martinez, the 1988 Division II national player of the year, was hitting .352 through Wednesday for the Seattle Mariners Triple A team, though he has yet to play in the majors.

Tenth-ranked Rollins (37-17) is in the regional for the second year in a row and third overall. The Tars upset Florida Southern and Tampa in the 1989 South regional and went on to finish fifth in the College World Series.

Rollins produced John Castino, the 1979 American League Rookie of the Year.

Other SSC alumni in the majors include New York Yankees designated hitter Steve Balboni, who played for Eckerd, and Frank DiPino, a reliever with the St. Louis Cardinals who played at Saint Leo.

Division II South Region Baseball Tournament

Who: No. 3 Florida Southern College Moccasins (40-10); No. 6 University of Tampa Spartans (40-12); No. 10 Rollins College Tars (37-17).

Where: University of Tampa's Sam Bailey Field, southeast corner of N Boulevard and Cass Street.

When: Today through Sunday.

Schedule: Today _ Florida Southern vs. Rollins, 11 a.m.; Tampa vs. Game One loser, 3 p.m.; Saturday _ Tampa vs. Game One winner, 11 a.m.; Game 4, 3 p.m.; Sunday _ Game 5, 1 p.m., if necessary. If each team has one loss after three games, pairings for Game 4 will be determined by coin flip. The loser of Game 4 will be eliminated and the remaining teams will meet in Game 5 for the championship.

At stake: A berth in the eight-team Division II College World Series, May 26-June 2 in Montgomery, Ala.

Tickets: $5 adults, $3 college age and under.