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UT Spartans keep loose for D-II final
By DAVID NORRIE
Published June 3, 2006
Joe Urso knows his Tampa Spartans have the talent to win the Division II national baseball championship today in Montgomery, Ala.
The coach just wants to make sure nothing interferes.
"We're not a big rah-rah group," he said. "This team has tremendous ability but great personality is what separates us. And I want to make sure we don't let anything change heading into this game."
The Spartans (53-6) have won 18 in a row heading into tonight's game at 8 against California State-Chico (46-20).
This is Tampa's second appearance in the final under Urso, the last in 2003 when UT lost to Central Missouri State.
"Last time I thought it took us about three innings to calm down," said Urso, in his sixth season. "The key is to play relaxed and to limit errors and walks so we don't give them extra outs. Other than that we just let our offense do what it's done all year."
And there lies what may be the difference between this year's group and that of 2003, a team that relied heavily on starting pitching, playing "small ball" and manufacturing runs. These Spartans rank No. 2 in the nation in team batting average (.378), runs per game (10.0) and home runs (94).
Orlando Rosales and Lee Cruz transferred from Pasco-Hernando Community College in 2005 and freshman Jose Jimenez was a regarded recruit out of Miami Pace High. The trio combined for 57 homers this season, with Cruz hitting his 25th and 26th in Thursday's 13-3 win over Franklin Pierce. That leads the nation and passed Tino Martinez's school mark of 25 set in 1988.
Before the season, Urso said anything short of a national championship would be a disappointment. Now the Wildcats stand between UT and its fourth title.
Junior right-hander Ross Jackson (11-0, 3.35 ERA) is scheduled to start for Tampa.
"It's an advantage to pitch with such a strong offense," he said. "I'm hoping we put up runs early to help calm the nerves, but I'll stick to my guns and battle for them. The first two games of this tournament were pitchers duels so if our offense struggles we have the arms to handle it ... Either way, we'll be good."
The game will air live on Ch. 47 on Bright House cable systems.