Ace gets Spartans to final

Published May 20, 2007

TAMPA -- It might be argued Tampa's latest postseason victory, 5-3 Saturday against Tusculum in the Division II South Region tournament, featured two crucial saves.

The official one went to junior Jonathan Holt, his 19th of the year and third in as many days. But some will credit coach Joe Urso with a bigger one: saving left-handed ace Kevin Ferguson until Saturday.

Working on eight days' rest, the junior 12-2 scattered seven hits over eight innings and a season-high 106 pitches to propel the top-ranked Spartans (48-9) into today's 1 p.m. final. UT faces the winner of Saturday's late game between Florida Southern and Tusculum.

If the Spartans lose, they play at 5 for a berth in this week's College World Series.

Had they lost Saturday morning, they would have had to play Saturday night in an elimination game and win twice today to remain in pursuit of a second straight national title.

But Urso's calculated gamble with Ferguson prevented that.

"We felt that (saving Ferguson until Game 3) was the right decision, and (he) made us look smart," he said.

Ferguson coasted through the first six innings, allowing a run on six hits, before walking three in the seventh to load the bases with one out. During that inning, he saw Urso and pitching coach Sam Militello conversing in the dugout.

"He kind of put up his hand like, 'Gimme a chance,'" Urso said.

Urso acquiesced, and Ferguson forced No. 9 hitter Eric Barclay into a sacrifice fly to left and Carlos Rivera into a grounder to short. The next inning, he retired the side on six pitches.

"It's probably the first time that I've listened to a pitcher, but he wanted the ball," Urso said. "He's the pitcher of the year in our conference, and he showed some big guts reaching down and getting us out of that inning."

AWARDS: Ferguson, who has a 2.64 ERA in 85 1/3 innings, was named the South Region pitcher of the year. Holt and teammate Craig Corrado (outfielder) joined him on the first-team along with Saint Leo pitcher Ryan Clark. The second team included Tampa's Ryan Kennedy (second base), Roberto Mena (shortstop) and Junior Mejia (outfield). And the all-defensive team included Ferguson, Kennedy and Eckerd leftfielder Grant Massey.

Information from Times wires contributed to this report. Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@sptimes com or (813) 226-3350.