May 22, 2010

By Harold Gutmann
Special to

CARY, N.C. -- Tampa came into the NCAA Division II Baseball Championships with one of the most powerful offenses in the country.

The Spartans averaged 10 runs a game, and everyone in the starting lineup was hitting at least .312.

But the Spartans had yet to face a pitcher like Central Missouri ace Brooks Martin.

The Mules' first-team All-American pitched a four-hitter and catcher Albert Selanders drove in all three runs as Central Missouri beat Tampa 3-0 in the first game of the tournament at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.

"Anytime you get to a postseason tournament, it's evident that it all begins with pitching, and we got just an outstanding effort from Brooks Martin," Mules coach Tom Myers said.

Third-ranked Central Missouri (51-9) will face the UC San Diego-Georgia College winner at 7 p.m. Monday. No. 2 Tampa (46-10) will face the loser in an elimination game at 3 p.m. Monday.

Changing speeds and staying low, Martin (12-0, 2.09 ERA) threw 137 pitches, striking out 10 and walking just one. It was the first time Tampa had been held scoreless this season.

"This whole year we've had a good offense, and he just did an unbelievable job of shutting us down," Spartans coach Joe Urso said.

"He did a great job of throwing that slider in under our left-handers' hands, working that sinker and changeup away and keeping us off balance."

Still, Martin hadn't gone more than eight innings in his career, and he started to show fatigue with two outs in the ninth. Leadoff hitter Correy Figueroa doubled and Patrick Donahue was hit by a pitch, bringing designated hitter Mike Schwartz to the plate as the tying run.

Martin said Selanders, his catcher, "just told me to relax and go right at him, do what I'd been doing the whole game."

Schwartz had reached base safely in 45 games but was 0-for-3 heading into the crucial at-bat. After taking a first-pitch slider for a strike, Schwartz topped an inside fastball and sent it rolling down the first-base line. Martin spun and threw to first for the final out.

"You have to tip your hat," Schwartz said. "He kept us off-balance, wasn't overpowering, just hit his spots."

Central Missouri recorded at least one hit in every inning, although it needed help to get the first run across. Jon Wegener struck out on a pitch in the dirt but reached first when the ball went into the home dugout. He reached second on a balk and scored on a two-out single by Selanders, the No. 8 hitter, who had started only 29 of his team's 61 games.

Selanders went one better in the fourth. Wegener again got on base with an infield single, and then Selanders hit a 2-1 fastball high over the 400-foot sign in center field for his third collegiate homer.

It came off Vanderbilt transfer Sean Bierman (4-2).

The redshirt freshman was a triple short of the cycle, matching career highs with three hits and three RBIs. Teammates Chance Tuttle and Nick DeBiasse each went 2-for-4.

This was the highest-profile matchup of the first round. Besides being highly ranked, Central Missouri and Tampa were the only previous champions in the eight-team field. In fact, the last time these teams met, the Mules won 11-4 in the 2003 Division II championship game. But Myers said if the teams had to meet, it was better to do it early.

"If you're going to play the No. 1 or 2 team, you want to face them with your best guy on the mound," Myers said. "We wanted the challenge, and we want the next challenge, whoever that is."

Urso, who led Tampa to the Division II championship in 2006 and '07, said the number of quality arms on the Spartans' staff should help them in the losers bracket.

"The biggest thing now is to get these guys mentally to bounce back for me," Urso said. "They were coming in here feeling really good about themselves, and one guy pretty much changed that, so I just need to get them back focused."