tampabay.com

UT tops Division II poll

By DAVID NORRIE
Published April 4, 2006


TAMPA - After taking three of four games against two ranked opponents last week, No.22 Florida Southern and No.15 Florida Gulf Coast, coach Joe Urso rewarded his team with a day off Monday. Tampa (28-5, 8-1) now ranks as the top Division II team in the nation, making the climb from No.5, where it began the season.

The Spartans haven't lost back-to-back games since their season-opening series against Georgia College, ranked No.23 at the time. Since then, they've gone 13-2 against ranked opponents. But you won't find Urso or anyone from last year's team getting a big head. Urso said he need only look to the second half of last season to remind himself and his team the importance of staying focused.

At this time last season Tampa was 27-4 and looking strong. That was until the team hit a bump, losing eight of its next 11. The Spartans finished 38-16 as the Sunshine State Conference runnerup and earned an a spot in the NCAA South Regional, where they came within a win of a trip of the College World Series. But that hiccup in the schedule was a setback in the team's momentum and kept it from possibly hosting the South Region Tournament.

"We were in a similar place last season and didn't close out the second half the way we expected," Urso said. "Now I'm just preaching how important winning the conference title is. We want to bring it back to UT."

After reeling off four consecutive SSC titles from 2000-03, the Spartans have come up shy of the prize the past two seasons with Barry taking it in '04 and Florida Southern last season. But this year looks to be shaping up differently for UT, especially after a dominating series against the Moccasins in March, taking three of four against the team that ousted them from the postseason last year on its way to a national championship.

For those Spartans who believe in karma, last year's series might offer a good sign. In April 2005 Florida Southern lost a closely contested first game to UT before outscoring the Spartans 30-12 in three consecutive wins. In nearly identical fashion, Tampa was edged by FSC in the first of four consecutive games this year before going on to win the next three by a combined 36-16 total.

The schedule also bodes well for UT. Fifteen of its final 17 games come against SSC opponents, each contest figuring not only into the conference standings but regional rankings. Of the five SSC opponents, only Lynn (7-5) is more than a game over .500 in SSC play.