CARY, N.C. — The University of Tampa baseball team overcame plenty of obstacles on its way back to the Division II College World Series this season, from a shortened regular season to the COVID-19 protocols that made even the most routine exercises seem unnatural.
In the end, though, there was one thing the Spartans couldn’t play through.
Central Missouri All-American Mason Green.
The left-hander silenced UT’s potent lineup for seven strong innings, including five on Saturday after the suspended game was resumed, to pitch the Mules to a 3-1 victory in the Division II College World Series semifinals at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
The loss denied coach Joe Urso’s team an opportunity at defending the national championship it won on the same field the most recent time the tournament was held, in 2019.
“Great pitching equalizes great hitting,” Urso said after the game, which ended UT’s season at 23-5. “My hat’s off to him. They have a great club.”
As impressive as Green’s 15-0 record coming into the game may have been, the Spartans were anything but intimidated by his presence on the mound.
They put two runners on in the first inning and scored in the second on a single by J.D. Urso and a Jose Cadenas sacrifice fly before play was halted by a lightning storm. They picked right up Saturday, getting a double by Jamarcus Lyons immediately after the game restarted and putting runners on base in all but two of the final seven innings.
But unilike the previous meeting between the teams Friday, won 8-1 by UT, the Spartans were unable to deliver timely hits to get runs home.
“We needed that clutch hit, but (Green’s) backdoor breaking ball was the key to his success,” Joe Urso said. “That’s what great pitchers do. They pitch and when they get into a little bit of trouble, their velocity jumps a couple miles an hour, you’ll see their breaking ball sharpen up. He’s one of the best in Division II I’ve seen all year and we’ve seen some good ones.”
Although UT wasn’t able to fashion another one of the comebacks that has become its trademark throughout this postseason, right-hander Braydon Nelson did everything he could to keep the game within reach until the final out.
Entering the game one batter before play was halted Friday, with his team trailing 2-1, Nelson matched Green virtually out-for-out the rest of the way. His only mistake came with one out in the fifth, when he allowed a home run to Erik Webb.
It was the fifth home run in four World Series games for the Mules rightfielder.
Nelson’s performance was similar to his first tournament appearance, a six-inning relief effort in a win against Trevecca Nazarene last Saturday.
“I love being in those pressure situations,” Nelson said. “I just want to go out there and compete. Once again, I was just trying to keep getting the offense back out there to do their thing, trying to put up those zeroes.”
Even though he did, it wasn’t enough to pull the Spartans through. Central Missouri (46-7) went on to play Wingate for the national championship later in the day.
Although Urso was philosophical about the defeat and complimentary of the winning team, he couldn’t help but think of what might have been had his side been able to scratch a few more runs across.
“Let’s just put it this way,” the veteran coach, who has won seven national titles at UT, said with tears welling in his eyes. “If we could have pulled this off, it would have been one of the best ones. This group was amazing. They fought and fought. We just ran out of gas against a great arm.”
Notable: The Spartans’ Drew Ehrhard (two home runs, six RBIs), Luke Glancy (one home run, five RBIs), Jordan Leasure (0.00 ERA, six innings, 11 strikeouts) and Flint (.545 average) made the all-tournament team.