CARY, N.C. — Winning games at the Division II College World Series has become something of a tradition for the University of Tampa.
So, too, it seems, has coming from behind to win games in late innings.
The Spartans have fallen behind in all five of their postseason games this season, including Saturday’s World Series opener against Trevecca Nazarene. All five times, they rallied to win.
Drew Ehrhard, a Wharton High alumnus, hit a tying three-run homer in the seventh inning, then doubled and scored the deciding run in the top of the 10th to give UT a 7-6 victory that advances the Spartans into the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament at the USA Baseball Training Complex.
“I knew this group was not going to quit on us,” said coach Joe Urso, whose teams have won three national championships in Cary, including the most recent one in 2019. “Their starting pitcher really settled in and did a great job, then later in the ballgame, that’s what we preach. Spartan baseball: Seventh, eighth, ninth. You have to win those innings and get some clutch hits.”
The biggest of those hits Saturday came off the bat of Ehrhard.
Facing relief pitcher Tiger Cox with his team trailing 6-3 with two on and two out in the seventh, the junior infielder sent a two-strike line drive over the leftfield wall for his first home run of the season.
Three innings later, Ehrhard came up in a big spot and delivered again. This time it was a leadoff double into the leftfield corner to get the Spartans started in the top of the 10th.
Jamarcus Lyons (King High) bunted Ehrhard to third, where he scored despite a drawn-in infield on Dan Sullivan’s ground out to first.
“I had a couple of balls come in on me today and I was able to turn on them for the home run and the double down the line,” said Ehrhard, one of several veterans returning to Cary from the 2019 national championship team. “Coach Urso and I have been working on that for the past couple of weeks and it’s really starting to pay off.”
UT (21-4) got off to a fast start by scoring three times in the top of the first on an RBI single by Sullivan and a two-run homer by Luke Glancy.
But whatever momentum the Spartans gained from the early offense, it disappeared just as quickly. Trevecca Nazarene’s Braden Odom hit starting pitcher Eric Linder’s first pitch out of the park for a home run. The Trojans (36-12) followed that up with two more runs to tie the score after one inning.
Things went downhill from there.
UT ran itself out of a rally in the second when a baserunning mistake turned a sacrifice fly into an inning-ending double play. Trevecca Nazarene then scored three more runs on a homer by Ethan Harrison to take the lead.
“It was a big play,” Urso said. “I felt like we lost the momentum there, especially when they came right out and punched us again.”
Although it took five more innings for the Spartans to get back, they kept themselves in position to rally thanks to the strong relief pitching of Braydon Nelson. The junior right-hander, who has spent most of the season as a starter, pitched 4⅔ scoreless innings before handing the ball to closer Jordan Leasure (Riverview High).
Leasure faced 11 batters, striking out eight to pick up the victory.
Division II World Series
University of Tampa vs. Central Missouri, 6 p.m. Monday
USA Baseball National Training Complex, Cary, N.C.