UT baseball responds after win streak ends

Published March 28, 2006

What could've been a deep cut in the psyche of the top-ranked Tampa baseball team instead turned out to be only a slight bump as the Spartans rebounded from a poor outing Friday against rival Florida Southern with an offensive outburst in Saturday's doubleheader, winning both games handily.

In their first meeting this season the Moccasins, ranked No.22 in the Collegiate Baseball Division II poll, scored three runs with two out in the eighth to win 8-4, ending Tampa's 21-game unbeaten streak. FSC also knocked UT out of the NCAA South Region tournament last year. This time after the loss, Spartans coach Joe Urso challenged his team to turn things around.

"Sometimes you get in a streak and throw added pressure on yourself. We came out and didn't play the way we're capable of," Urso said. "So I challenged them all, especially our leaders, and told them it's about the conference and we needed to step up."

The team responded with six runs in the first inning off Andrew Polk in Game1 on Saturday. Freshman Jose Jimenez had five RBIs on two home runs in his first two at-bats, giving UT a 13-0 lead in the second.

A change in the batting order helped two players get going. Second baseman Ryan Kennedy and outfielder Lee Cruz combined to score four runs and four RBIs in the 15-7 victory. Kennedy went from leadoff to the No.9 spot and Cruz dropped one spot to No.4.

Shortstop Roberto Mena secured his place in the Spartan record books by becoming the first player in Tampa history to hit for the cycle. He did it in reverse order, homering in the first, tripling then doubling in the second and singling in the fourth.

Jimenez went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored late as UT won 16-6. His eight homers this season are one more than he had last year at Miami Monsignor Pace High. The power-hitting first baseman is considered a steal to his coaches as they pegged him to stay in South Florida following his senior year.

"I got lucky," Urso said. "I had an opportunity to watch him as a sophomore in a tournament in Fort Myers and when I saw him I said he is a University of Miami type guy. But Miami went after another first baseman and I called him."

Jimenez was the top hitter in Dade County last year as a catcher but was projected to play first base. UT's depth at catcher allowed him to make the expected transition. What wasn't expected, said Urso, was for him to "come along so quickly."

The tutelage of his high school coach Lee Cruz , plus centerfielder Orlando Rosales , have helped Jimenez progress.

"I expected to have my struggles but knew I would adjust with my number of at bats," he said. "Lee and Orlando helped me out with my swing and what to do mentally during certain at bats. I think that has helped me adjust to this level quickly."

Jimenez moved up two spots in the batting order to fifth. He was able to showcase his talents in front of his visiting family.

"Finally, I get to be part of this rivalry," he said. "It felt great to be a part of this series and to come through in the big game."

Cruz (15), Rosales (11) and Jimenez (eight) are the top three in home runs in the Sunshine State Conference, giving UT power-hitting depth it has not seen in recent years.

On Monday, Jimenez was named conference player of the week and UT beat Florida Southern again, 5-3 in Lakeland.

SOFTBALL: Nicole Fenno went 7-for-10 with three runs and an RBI in a three-game weekend series against Eckerd. She scored two runs in Friday's 8-1 win and went 3-for-3 with an RBI in Game 2, which the Spartans won 3-1.

Devlin Dougherty pitched all three games and won the first two, improving to 12-8. In two wins she had 20 total strikeouts and allowed just one earned run. She gave up three runs on three hits in the sixth inning of Saturday's second game as Eckerd rallied to win 3-2.