“I felt like we came out that game just hoping to get through it to get to the finals,” Tampa head coach Joe Urso said of the loss to Grand Valley State. “We talked about that. You’ve got to come out and fight to get to the finals. But these guys were resilient all year.
“That shows you what the personality of this team was all about. They were not going to give up. They came out and fought for us the next day. We talked in pregame [Saturday] and said, ‘We’re going to have to go out and fight to get this championship. We can’t walk on that field and hope to get it.’ ”
This was the first time since 2003 that the top-two ranked teams in DII college baseball had faced each other in the championship game, but instead of the nail-biter most expected, it turned out to be the third consecutive DII national championship decided in something of a blowout. West Chester downed Delta State 9-0 last year, while West Florida took Winona State down in 2011 by a score of 12-2.
Tampa scored four runs and forced Minnesota State-Mankato starting pitcher Harvey Martin from the game in the bottom of the second inning before the first out was recorded. By the time the frame finally ended, the score was 5-0.
Martin had a huge year for the Mavericks. He was 9-0 going into Saturday, with a miniscule 1.51 ERA, and the postseason awards have already started piling up. He’s already received a number of coveted national pitcher of the year awards, along with a nod as a first-team All-American.
“That was huge,” said Adam Pendleton, who doubled in the big second-inning onslaught. “We just came out and were aggressive in that inning. Everyone did their part during that inning moving runners. We got some timely hits, and it just worked out for us to get [Martin] out of the game.”
Cushions like the one Tampa built up in the second make coaches very happy in general, but getting to one of the best pitchers in the nation is an especially big relief.
“Once he wasn’t getting the breaking ball where he wanted, down and away in the dirt for the strikeout, our hitters were doing a good job of taking some of those pitchers,” Urso said. “Once again, it was a great hitters’ plan that Coach [John] Ramos put together for these guys, and they executed it to perfection.
“We had seen him in the tournament. We knew his strengths were away, and we told our guys not to worry about any strikeouts inside. Those would be on the coaching staff. We needed to take that outside part of the plate away from him, because he can point that ball right where he wants it on the corner. That’s why he’s so good.”
Five different pitchers took the mound in relief for Minnesota State-Mankato and held Tampa to three more runs the rest of the game, but the damage had already been done.
Tampa starter Ben Keller, meanwhile, took the advantage he’d been given and ran with it for seven very strong innings. He gave up a single run on a total of six hits, five strikeouts and not a single walk.
“You can give up a run here, a run there and you’re still fine,” Keller said. “Our offense all year has been putting up tons of runs. In a 0-0 game, you’re still comfortable. But it’s huge. It takes a lot of pressure off. All you’ve got to do is throw strikes.”
The 2013 national championship is Urso’s third as Tampa’s head coach, and the school’s sixth. This one might not have had the incredible come-from-behind excitement of the 2006 title — Tampa also won it all the following year — but this one will always be special.
“My fear coming into this year was that I knew I had a special group of guys,” Urso admitted. “I just wanted this to end well for them. This will go down as my favorite team ever. I didn’t think anyone would ever beat that 2006 team. That’s how proud I am of these young men.”