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Veterans, freshman key softball team's success


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001

TAMPA -- Leslie Kanter expected good things this season.

And why not? As UT's softball coach, Kanter entered the 2001 season with a solid pitching staff, a core group of veterans and an impressive collection of freshmen to add to last year's 28-11 squad.

But could Kanter possibly have expected a school record for victories, a possible Sunshine State Conference title and a chance to go deep into the post-season?

"We had a very good fall season," Kanter said. "And we stressed the importance of starting the season well. We really wanted our first few games to set how we would play this season. And we've tried to continue that."

So what is the key to the Spartans' success?

It's a combination of veteran skill infused with youthful exuberance and talent. Among the standouts are:

Freshman outfielder Kristin Abbott, who is batting .321 and leads UT with 21 runs. She has 5 doubles, 3 triples a home run and 10 RBI. During last week's marathon 2-1 17-inning win over Florida Southern, Abbott's single produced the winning run.

Junior pitcher Christy Exizian, a transfer who has shined offensively and on the mound. Exizian hit .471 last week while helping the Spartans sweep Florida Tech and Florida Southern and split a pair with Saint Leo. Named the SSC Player of the Week, Exizian had two clutch hits in UT's 3-1 win over Saint Leo on Sunday, including her second home run of the year. On the mound, she is 15-5 with a 0.96 ERA.

Senior pitcher Laci Tiarks. Still the team's No. 1 pitcher, Tiarks is 16-9 with a 1.57 ERA. The conference's current Pitcher of the Week, Tiarks went 3-0 last week with a 0.23 ERA. She allowed 20 hits in 30 innings and struck out 10. In the 17-inning win, she allowed just one run on six hits. Catcher Dawn Wallace, who continues to have a hot bat and be steady behind the plate. A senior, Wallace is hitting .315 while starting all 45 games. She has a team-best 46 hits and eight doubles. Her 60 total bases and .993 fielding percentage also are team bests.

All of this has added up to a showdown tripleheader Saturday with Rollins. Two wins would give UT its first SSC title in the program's 13-year history.

The 31-14 Spartans are 18-6 in league play, three games ahead of second-place Lynn and Saint Leo, both at 15-9. The logjam around second place is even tighter with Barry at 16-10 and Florida Southern at 15-10.

A conference title also would be sweet for Kanter, who took over the program in 1995 and has guided the Spartans to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the early 1990s.

The 1-0 and 2-1 wins over Florida Southern last week saw Kanter take the Spartans past 28 wins this year, breaking the school record set a year ago.

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