tampabay.com

Weary Spartans happy with the recent break

But they're ready to get back to winning today in Alabama.

By JOEY KNIGHT
Published May 30, 2007


During the past two days, they have slept in, had a team outing at the local zoo, dined on barbecue and Carrabba's, practiced some and even taken in a couple of games.

Such is life in the Division II College World Series winners' bracket, and you won't hear the University of Tampa players or coaches bemoaning its mild pace.

"We needed the rest, " coach Joe Urso said. "Our bodies needed it without a doubt."

The top-ranked Spartans 51-10 enter tonight's 7:30 semifinal fresh off consecutive idle days. They have played only twice - winning both - since the series began Friday.

That's a lot of down time in Montgomery, Ala.; one can visit Hank Williams' grave site only so often. But Urso will gladly take the added time on his hands if it alleviates some wear from his arms.

The Spartans' weekend victories - 13-5 Friday against Cal State-Los Angeles and 9-2 Sunday over Nebraska-Omaha - provided their pitching staff with the rest it needed to rejuvenate itself.

Now, from a mound perspective, the defending national champs may be in the best shape of any of the four remaining teams.

"To be able to rest (ace) Kevin Ferguson and (closer) Jonathan Holt those days allows us to align things for the rest of the tournament, " Urso said.

Ferguson (12-2, 2.92 ERA), expected to start tonight against Southern Indiana (43-22), may have been the prime beneficiary of the added days off.

After throwing a season-high 107 pitches in a South Region tournament win against Tusculum on May 19, he struggled in Friday's CWS opener, allowing five hits and two earned runs in only three innings.

Holt (19 saves, 1.74 ERA) who saved three games in as many days at the South Region before starting the May 20 title game, got Friday's win in relief.

"The coaching staff was not sure (Ferguson) was going to be ready for (Friday's) start and we went with him anyway, " Urso said.

"As we monitored him, the breaking ball didn't have the normal bite and we just didn't feel like he had his best stuff. We had a plan it was going to be a quick trigger because we thought he might not be as ready as we would like."

Now, everyone is ready.

"Being able to get in that winners' bracket and have those two days off after Sunday's win was real important for us, " Urso said. "Now is when the tournament gets really interesting."

Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or jknight@sptimes.com.