May 24, 2010

Harold Gutmann
Special to

CARY, N.C. - Five-time champion Tampa was the first team eliminated from this year's Division II National Championship tournament, and it came in the most surprising way.

A team that came in averaging 10 runs a game in the regular season scored just once in two games at the USAB National Training Complex. Jason Nicholas did the damage this time, pitching eight innings without allowing an earned run to lead No. 4 Georgia College to a 2-1 win over the second-ranked Spartans (46-11).

Designated hitter Benton Yaun drove in both runs for the Bobcats (40-16), including a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning that broke a 1-1 tie.

Nicholas allowed just an unearned run on seven hits and two walks, just two days after all-American Brooks Martin pitched a shutout against Tampa.

"Situational hitting is very important and playing smallball on this field and we didn't do that," said coach Joe Urso, who led Tampa to championships in 2006 and 2007.

The random draw of the tournament didn't do Georgia College any favors. Despite their No. 4 ranking, the Bobcats had to face the top two teams in the nation in their first two games.

Georgia College lost in the bottom of the ninth against No. 1 UC San Diego on Saturday night before responding on Monday.

"There's a four next to our name, and we feel like we've earned it," Bobcats coach Tom Carty said. "We have a lot of confidence, we think we have a good club and that's why we're here. We just take the approach that we were going to have to knock No.1, No. 2 to get there, whether we do it early or late."

The road doesn't get any easier for the Bobcats now. Georgia College will next play Wednesday at 3 p.m. against the loser of tonight's game between UC San Diego and No. 3 Central Missouri.

After Richard Pirkle walked with two outs in the second inning, Yaun drove him in by hitting a fastball in the gap to make it 1-0. Yaun later hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, scoring Steve Muioi.

That was enough for Nicholas (7-2), who shut out No. 10 Columbus State in the regional tournament and has now allowed four runs in his last four starts, lowering his ERA to 4.36.

The big ballpark in Cary and the heavy air - the start was delayed 45 minutes because of weather and the last two innings were played in heavy rain - meant that hard-hit balls were dying in the outfield. That especially affected the Spartans lineup, whose 79 home runs were fourth-most in the NCAA in the regular season,

Still Tampa had its chances. With runners on first and second and no outs, Tyler Cox popped up a bunt to the pitcher in the third inning, limiting the Spartans to just one run when Sunshine State Conference Player of the Year Mike Schwartz later came through with an RBI single.

Tampa's best chance came when Patrick Donahue doubled to put runners on second and third with no outs, but Nicholas struck out Trace Venegas and got Dylan Brown to pop out to shallow right. Correy Figueroa then lined out to left to end the threat.

"We had enough opportunities to win this ballgame and we just didn't execute on the situational hitting side," Urso said.

Donahue finished 3-for-4 with a double and Schwartz - whose 45-game hitting streak ended against Central Missouri - went 2 for 4 with an RBI. Josh Bowman (8-5), who gave up six hits in 6 2/3 innings, took the loss.

Tampa's last chance came after Donahue singled to lead off the ninth against Bobcats closer Ryan Tabor. He was sacrificed to second but was stranded by Brown (strikeout) and Figueroa (fly out) as Tabor recorded his fourth save.

"I didn't want to push my luck," Carty said of lifting Nicholas after 115 pitches.

Tampa had actually swept GCSU in the opening series of the season for both teams, scoring 32 runs in three games. But Nicholas, who had just transferred from Meramec CC in St. Louis, wasn't on the mound for that one.

"They make you pay if you don't pitch well, and just like any other baseball game good pitching beats good hitting," Carty said.