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University of Tampa hanging tough in Division II World Series

The Spartans win the day’s first game to remain in the hunt for a national title, but weather delays again disrupt play.
The University of Tampa's JD Urso slides in safely for UT's first run against Central Missouri in the Division II World Series on Friday.
The University of Tampa's JD Urso slides in safely for UT's first run against Central Missouri in the Division II World Series on Friday. [ BRETT FRIEDLANDER | Special to the Times ]
Published Jun. 12
Updated Jun. 12

CARY, N.C. — The University of Tampa baseball team will be playing on the final day of the Division II College World Series again this year.

Whether it will be playing to defend the championship it won the last time the event was held in 2019 is still up in the air.

The Spartans beat top-seeded Central Missouri 8-1 on Friday to earn a second shot at the Mules in a winner-take-all rematch to determine which team advances to the title game.

But because of a lightning storm over the USA Baseball National Training Complex, the semifinal was suspended after two innings and will resume Saturday morning at 11 with UCM leading 2-1. The winner then faces Wingate for the national championship later in the day.

Wingate earned its shot at the title with an 11-inning, 8-7 win over Angelo State, completing an improbable run of four wins in as many days through the loser’s bracket.

UT (23-5) also had to bounce back from a loss in the double-elimination event to keep its hopes alive.

Friday’s win avenged a second-round 8-4 loss to Central Missouri in which the Mules put the game away with a pair of big innings late in the game. This time around, it was the Spartans’ bats that came alive over the final few innings.

“We’ve had so many come-from-behind victories, once we get rolling, we feel very confident,” UT coach Joe Urso said. “Their starting pitcher (Conor Dryer) did a great job early in the game. But the story is the seventh, eighth and ninth. We believe if we keep the game close into the seventh, eighth and ninth, the tide will turn and Tampa will take over.”

The Spartans didn’t have to wait until the seventh to start turning the momentum in their favor Friday,

After trailing 1-0 since the first, when the Mules (45-6) scored on a bases-loaded wild pitch by starter Eric Linder, UT got even with a run in the sixth. Drew Ehrhard, who was hit by a pitch, scored on a two-out double by cleanup hitter Jamarcus Lyons.

The Spartans took their first lead an inning later on RBI singles by Ehrhard and Luke Glancy before breaking the game open with a five-run eighth in which they sent 10 men to the plate. The rally was ignited by a perfect squeeze bunt by Christian Flint, which the senior shortstop legged out into his third hit of the day.

“He had great at-bats all day long, actually all tournament long and just solid defense at short,” Urso said of Flint. “To have a chance to beat Central Missouri with their team speed, we’ve got to keep them off the bases and play perfect defense. And he played shutdown shortstop again today.”

He wasn’t the only one shutting down the Mules on Friday.

After getting off to a shaky start in his second mound appearance of the tournament, Linder settled in to pitch six solid innings. He then handed the ball over to star closer Jordan Leasure for the next two.

Once UT got the big lead, Urso pulled him in hopes of saving an inning for either the Central Missouri rematch or a championship game, allowing Michael D’Emo to finish things off. Between them, the three Spartans pitchers allowed no runs and just three hits over the final eight innings.

Although the victory helped extend UT’s season for at least another game, the momentum didn’t last — as the Mules (45-6) scored in each of their first two at-bats in the suspended game.

Considering that the Spartans have trailed in every postseason game they’ve played this year, they’re still confident heading into Saturday’s resumption.

“I don’t think there’s any advantage or disadvantage,” Leasure said. “They’re going to come out with the same mentality they’ve had the whole tournament and so are we. We’re just going to take it one game at a time, one inning at a time.”