CARY, N.C. -- For three years now, Joe Urso has preached one very simple truth before, during and after the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship.
Winning conference titles is great and personal accolades are awesome, but it’s what happens in the DII championship that truly matters. The cold, hard fact of the matter is that the only way for a Tampa baseball team to be remembered, he says, is to win national championships.
Anything else just isn’t good enough.The Spartans were good enough this year, pushing across two runs in the fourth and one in the seventh for a 3-1, title-deciding victory against Catawba on Saturday. It is Tampa’s second national championship in the past three years, and the fourth under Urso. Overall, the title is the seventh in school history.
Urso might insist that taking home the gold trophy is the only way for his team to stick in people’s memories, but that isn’t actually the case. Actually, it can be good for a team’s disappointments to linger, if for no other reason than to fully appreciate what its successes truly mean.
Take 2014, for instance. Before the championship last year, the title seemed all but a given. It had been an historic season for Tampa, which sported a sizzling 51-2 record coming into the season-ending tournament.
A loss in the opener, combined with a heart-breaking last-chance loss to Colorado Mesa sent the team packing. That was a stacked team, from the top of the batting order to the bottom, and on the mound, too. They were expected to win it all and didn’t.
Urso had doubts at one point whether this year’s squad would even be invited to its regional tournament … and then did exactly what last year’s lineup failed to do.
That’s what people will remember.
“It really means a lot to these seniors,” Urso said. “They all knew that we had some unfinished business that they wanted to take care of. We came in here last year with high expectations and got our hearts crushed. This year, we came in with a group that was really overachieving and got hot at the right time. They weren’t going to take no for an answer.
“There was a time where I looked them all in the eyes and didn’t think they were going to be good enough. That’s when this group really turned it around. They knew how important it was to keep the tradition going.”
Ironically, the 2015 DII championship ended with Catawba’s Craig Brooks striking out swinging, the ball tucked safely in catcher Nick Tindall’s glove. Last year’s run ended with one popping out of Tindall’s mitt, bottom of the ninth, against Colorado Mesa.
The runner scored; game and season over. That did not happen this time. What’s more, it was Tindall’s triple in the bottom of the fourth that scored teammates Cody deNoyelles and Stephen Dezzi to put the Spartans on top for good.
“You have a vision of how things are going to end,” said Tindall, a senior criminology major who next plans to join the Air Force. “Last night, I was laying in bed and thinking about how championships are won. For it to end with a strikeout and for me to have the ball and go over and tackle [starting pitcher Michael] Calkins and just drag him to the ground and everybody just jump on top of me, the feeling is just so overwhelming. I couldn’t be happier to do this with a great group of guys.”
Urso is going to take some time to savor this one, as he very well should. He and his family are headed to the Dominican Republic.
Where there are some outstanding baseball players to be found, right? Who says vacations should be all play and no work?
“I normally get right back to work, but I’m going to take some time off,” he admitted. “It’s been a grind. These guys really fought for me this year. They had every excuse in the book why this season wasn’t supposed to work out for us, but they didn’t let it happen.”
Next season can wait.