Rotation big concern for baseball coach Urso

When the University of Tampa baseball opens its season tonight at Eckerd, it will look quite different from recent years.

Published February 1, 2005

The Spartans lost four of their first five batters from a year ago and have a pitching staff with two freshmen, a sophomore and a senior. The lone returning starter from last season, sophomore Sergio Perez , enters as the No.1 pitcher. He takes the mound tonight confident and knowing what is expected of him.

"I'm going to do the same thing I did last year," said Perez, who was 8-1 as a freshman. "I'm going to come after hitters and attack the plate. The coaches put me here because they know I can handle it. The goal is to get to the (Division II) World Series and I know I'm a big part of that."

At 6 feet 2, 225 pounds, Perez is is built to withstand a lot of innings, something Tampa's No. 2 pitcher, Justin Boza , is going to have to adjust to this season. Boza is the only senior in the rotation after three seasons as UT's closer. He set a school record last season with 18 saves.

Pitching coach Sam Militello worked with Boza in the offseason to prepare his arm for the extra innings.

Pitching has traditionally been a strong point for UT and coach Joe Urso expects that trend to continue even after he lost three starters to graduation. Those three pitchers, Eric Beattie , Joey Watts and Casey McKenzie , accounted for 28 victories last season and were part of a staff that ranked second in the Sunshine State Conference with a 3.75 team ERA.

"Defense and pitching have been the backbone of this program," Urso said. "We've seen several bright spots so far in training, it's just a matter of doing it when they step on the field."

Militello said the talent is in place, but the biggest challenge is for the players to learn the system and communicate so everybody is on the same page.

SKINNER HONORED: Forward Jamie Skinner was named the SSC women's basketball player of the week Tuesday after helping the Spartans to wins against Eckerd and Lynn last week.

For the week, Skinner shot 55.2 percent from the floor and averaged 16 points and 8.5 rebounds over two games. Skinner is UT's leading scorer (12.7 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (8.0 rpg).

After winning 57-46 at Saint Leo on Monday, Tampa was 16-4 overall, 7-2 in the SSC and remained in the top 10 in the South Region poll at No.9.

FITZGERALD MEMORIAL: Pepin Stadium will host the Tom Fitzgerald Memorial Soccer Festival on Feb.13 in honor of the Spartans soccer coach who was killed in a motorcycle accident in December.

A joint venture between the university and Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake City, the festival will include a youth clinic, coaching symposium and two games featuring the Crew, Salt Lake City and the U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team.

All proceeds from the festival will go toward a scholarship named in Fitzgerald's honor.

"I know Tom would be unbelieveably overwhelmed by all the support," said Debi Fitzgerald , widow of the UT coaching legend. "It would mean so much to him to have an endowment in his name at the University of Tampa. UT was a place very special to him and a place where he was going to retire from."