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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
Lineup grinds it out for Spartans

Joe Urso admits it. He looks at the scoreboard.

When he does, the longtime University of Tampa baseball coach also admits he's surprised.

"When you start to put (the lineup) together, you think, 'This might not be enough to score runs,'" the 13th-year Spartans coach said. "But every time I look up at the scoreboard, we've grinded out enough.

"That's the unique part of this offense - it doesn't have one guy that it relies on. There's not a big home run hitter, not an RBI guy, not a leadoff guy with a ton of stolen bases. It just doesn't have that - it's a bunch of guys that grind out at-bats and all contribute.

"I've never seen anything like it."

The No. 2-ranked Spartans (43-11) will need every run today as they open play in the Division II College World Series against Coker at 1 p.m. at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

Tampa advanced after winning its 15th South Regional championship and scoring 53 runs in five games, including dropping 20 on West Florida in the championship game. That's not surprising from a team that averages 8.1 runs per game, ranked 11th in Division II.

"Really, you can't let up," said senior third baseman Jake Schrader, who has 44 RBIs, including six in two games in last weekend's win against West Florida. "It's definitely a united effort every game and almost everyone can or does get a big hit. That's what's different about us - the way we go about it. We put teams away when we get the chance."

It's true the Spartans do not have a dominant hitter. But several players are having great seasons.

Tyler Ding has the highest batting average (.387), but Michael Danner has a team-high 46 RBIs. Then there's Connor Obrochta and Zach Gawrych, each of whom has scored 50-plus times and driven in 30-plus runs. Schrader is the closest thing the Spartans have to a power hitter with eight homers and 15 doubles, but Tampa has a remarkable six starters batting .340 or better.

"There's no one that carries the load," said left fielder Danner, a Gaither High product. "Everyone thinks, and knows, they're going to contribute. This is the first time (I've ever been part of a lineup) where everyone comes up big. When we look up at the scoreboard and see our success, it's great knowing we can score that many runs."

The Spartans have racked up an outstanding 586 hits, which ranks 16th in Division II, but it's the way players works at-bats, Urso says, that has led to the team's success. Urso talks about grinding out at-bats - batters working counts, drawing two-out walks and getting hit by a pitch.

The Spartans are 10th in Division II with 235 walks and seventh with a .424 on-base percentage. Yet, Tampa hitters are crowding the plate to make it tougher for opposing pitchers, evidenced by 107 hit batters, fourth in Division II.

"Hitting becomes contagious," Urso said. "A pitcher may get two quick outs, then a walk, then the offense smells the opportunity. A bloop single and a hit, and we get a few runs across. We find ways to score runs with two outs. And give the hitters a lot of credit; they're not afraid to work the count. Most are because they might strikeout, but they just grind away."

It's an interesting approach, one Urso has embraced as his team returns to the CWS.

"We've fed off each other the whole year," Danner said. "It's great being relentless, where we never let up. We just want to put up as many runs as we can. And when we do look at the scoreboard, we know we've all done the jobs we've set out to do."