Closer, starter, just give Holt the ball

An unusual move gives UT a lift.

Published May 24, 2007

Before last weekend's South Region baseball tournament, Tampa coach Joe Urso said he thought the key to getting back to the Division II College World Series would lie in relief pitching.

He was right, in a sense.

Tampa won Sunday's championship game by taking the unusual step of using closer Jonathan Holt as the starter, defeating Florida Southern 8-5 in 10 innings to earn the right to go back to Montgomery, Ala., and defend its national title.

"Joe and I talked and said let's turn the game around and work backward, " said pitching coach Sam Militello on starting Holt. "We knew we were going to need him at some point, and instead of waiting until the end of the game and not knowing what situation we'd be in, we said let's go ahead and give him the ball at the beginning."

It was risky considering Holt had pitched three consecutive days for the first time. But a loss to the Moccasins earlier Sunday had forced a playoff in the double-elimination tournament.

"I think we lost a lot of momentum at that point, " Urso said. "So Sam and I felt like those first two innings were going to be the most important."

Pitching on what he called fumes and adrenaline, Holt gave his team four solid innings and the lead. In the tournament he pitched 91/3 innings, allowing one run and striking out 10. He was named most outstanding player. He said he felt stronger as he accumulated more innings and that his pitches improved with the added workload.

Holt, who shares the school record for saves in a season (19), asked Militello for the start.

"Physically, my legs were pretty much done on Sunday, " Holt said. "The arm was all right, it was just a matter of mentally trying to keep focus on my mechanics and keep them in synch."

Top-ranked Tampa (49-10) plays Friday against No. 7 Cal State Los Angeles (43-15-1), champions of the West Region. Urso is likely to start South Region pitcher of the year Kevin Ferguson.

Tampa has the highest scoring average of the eight teams in the World Series, nearly nine runs per game. However, in five postseason games, UT has averaged just under five runs.