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University of Tampa on a roll to begin season

Coming off their first conference title, the Spartans are 10-1.

By ROD GIPSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2002


Coming off their first conference title, the Spartans are 10-1.

TAMPA -- It's hard to put a finger on the cause of the University of Tampa's 10-1 start. Coach Leslie Kanter can't.

The Spartans used outstanding pitching, defense and hitting to steamroll into Sunshine State Conference play Saturday at Florida Tech in Melbourne, where they finally lost, 6-1 in the second game of a doubleheader.

"We've gotten off to a really good start. It's almost kind of scary," said Kanter, in her seventh year as the Spartans' coach. "Now we hope it can last and that we haven't peaked too early. That's what we are working to avoid."

With wins against three teams ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association top 10, UT has outscored its opponents 60-19 this season, has a team ERA of 1.87, has a .975 fielding percentage and has scored six or more runs in all but three of its games.

If any one reason can be highlighted, Kanter said it is her team's hitting. Or more accurately, the squad's attitude toward hitting.

"They are not watching strikes," said Kanter. "They're just hitting the ball. They are very confident at the plate and they go up there wanting to hit."

Kanter said that aggressiveness at the plate is why four Spartans are batting above .300 and two more are just below it. Leftfiedler Kristen Law leads the team with a .459 average while third baseman Stephanie McKenzie (.440), second baseman Lacinda Norman (.333) and centerfielder Kristen Abbott (.333) are right behind. Christy Exizian is at .303 and there is little dropoff.

"In some of the past seasons, we've had three or four hitters," said Kanter, whose roster is stocked with mostly freshmen and sophomores. "This year, we've got nine or 10 good hitters. And none of them are afraid of pitchers."

Opposing batters may not be able to say the same.

Exizian has thrown the most innings (43) and strikeouts (35), but Law (3-0) actually has a better ERA at 1.54 compared to Exizian's 1.67. Law has struck out five batters in her 17 innings of work while Melissa Holmes has added a win in her lone start. UT hurlers have given up just 16 earned runs, have posted three shutouts and allowed an average of five hits per game.

The Spartans return home to host Spring Arbor (Mich.) on the 11th and Concord (WV) on the 14th. UT then plays three of its next five away: at Lynn (March 16), at Barry (March 17), home against Eckerd and preseason conference favorite Florida Southern (March 20 and 23) and then at Saint Leo (March 24).

"The conference schedule is always tough," said Kanter, whose team is coming off its first SSC championship. "We have already played some good teams and beaten them, but we have to keep playing well in order to approach what we did last season."

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