tampabay.com

Pitching coming around, wins over rivals piling up

If Tampa's baseball team plans to make a run at another national championship this season, coach Joe Urso knows his team must make it out of a very competitive South Region first.

By DAVID NORRIE
Published March 25, 2007


If Tampa's baseball team plans to make a run at another national championship this season, coach Joe Urso knows his team must make it out of a very competitive South Region first.

Saturday, the Spartans took a step in that direction, sweeping a doubleheader against Florida Gulf Coast, which is No. 24 in the Collegiate Baseball Division II poll. It's the third time this season UT has taken a series against a ranked opponent.

Last week No. 2 Tampa took two of three at then-No. 4 Florida Southern, a Sunshine State Conference rival. And in their home opener the first week of February, the Spartans won two of three against Georgia College and State (South Atlantic Region), ranked No. 2 at the time.

"The Florida Southern series was one of the big weekends that we talked about on our conference schedule," Urso said. "And that's our first goal, to win conference. These big series against regional opponents are just the beginning. You know you have to beat teams like (Florida) Southern if you want to talk about a possible conference championship, and it's important to get up for Florida Gulf Coast and Georgia College as they are typically two of the top teams in the south."

UT (25-6) is two games off of last season, when it started 27-4 on its way to a national title. But the Spartans offense hasn't lost a step, leading the SSC in average (.362), hits (359) and home runs (41).

Team pitching, No. 5 in the SSC, is beginning to rise to the level of consistency Urso had hoped.

Senior Ross Jackson (4-3) and junior Johnny Williams (5-0) have been solid as the No. 1 and 2 starters.

Junior transfer Kevin Ferguson missed a start with a sore shoulder in late February and struggled in his next two starts, going 31/3 innings in both. But March 17 against Florida Southern, Ferguson allowed just one earned run on three hits over five innings. He followed that in Game 2 Saturday, giving up one run and striking out seven in a 10-1 win.

"He came back nicely," Urso said of Ferguson. "And I think all of our starting pitchers have been doing a great job of pitching deep into their games. I think we're solid and have a good mix there."

CROSS COUNTRY: Women's No. 1 runner Laura Woznicki has her sights on qualifying for nationals at 5,000 meters while freshman Paige Williams is training to run at 10,000 for the first time.

Woznicki is coming off a win at the USF Invitational last week in which she ran the 3,000 in 10 minutes, 22.23 seconds. Williams set a UT freshman record in that race, finishing second in 10:26.68.

Coach Jarrett Slaven has the women's team poised for a fifth consecutive trip to nationals, and thinks his men's team has an outside chance at its first appearance.

"The guys are finally starting to equal out," Slaven said. "We've got five pretty solid runners and if they mature the way we're hoping, they've got at least a 50-50 chance.

Anthony Nicolosi is one of the new recruits making a difference. In the 3,000 at USF, the freshman set a school record of 9:04.42.