Michael Calkins said he didn’t think he had a complete game in him headed into the NCAA Division II World Series.
Unfortunately for Catawba, Tampa’s big senior lefthander was good enough for his second of the week on Saturday.
Calkins allowed an earned run on four hits, striking out four against one walk for a 3-1 win in the national championship game, denying the Indians the chance to make history for their school and conference.
It was the second title in three seasons and seventh overall for the top-seeded Spartans (43-13), who were 4-0 at Coleman Field at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
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The result denied No. 2 seed Catawba (47-15), backed by a heavily partisan crowd of 2,452, a chance to win the South Atlantic Conference’s first NCAA title in any sport. SAC teams are 0-6 in Division II championship games.
Catawba, in the final two for the first time in any sport, needed to beat Tampa twice Saturday to win the double-elimination event.
“Catawba was awesome,” said Tampa coach Joe Urso, who has been head coach for four of the seven titles and led the Spartans to a 6-2 exhibition win over the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater on March 1. “Jim Gantt just runs an amazing program.
“We were just lucky to scratch out a big hit to get the lead. And Calkins kept dominating the zone. I couldn’t be happier with this group. (Shortstop Giovanny) Alfonzo kept some leadoff hitters off base with some tough backhands in the hole. It was an all-around team effort.”
Tampa is 7-1 all-time against Catawba, including a victory in the 2008 South Region final.
The Indians had also been in the Elite Eight in 2012, exiting after winning twice and losing twice.
“Sean Grant gave us a chance, but we just couldn’t do anything with their pitcher,” said Gantt, 685-346 after 19 seasons in Salisbury. “If you’re playing a team like Tampa at this stage it’s going to take somebody (on the other side) to have a miscue to come out on top.
“It feels real good that we’re going to have so many guys back. This is a great accomplishment – for a school with 1,300 students –it’s just unbelievable.”
Calkins (6-4), who was named MVP, was one of six Spartans named to the all-tournament team with Alfonzo, catcher Nick Tindall, outfielders Stephen Dezzi and Casey Scoggins and fellow pitcher Chase Sparkman.
“We tried to not worry about the individual hitters as much as just keeping it low in the zone,” Calkins said. “This field plays unbelievably well, and we’ve had solid defense all year. And it’s good to peak at the right time.”
Catawba junior southpaw Grant (2-2) lasted 6 1/3 innings, giving up the three runs on five hits with a walk and a strikeout.
“I could have made a couple of better pitches,” said Grant, who faced five left-handers in the Tampa lineup. “That’s a solid lineup and you’ve got to tip your hat to them.”
Catawba scored in the third inning. Luke Setzer hit a one-out single to left, then with two out Dylan Richardson ripped a two-out RBI double to left before Calkins intentionally walked consensus All-America catcher Will Albertson and got out of the jam.
“I had two hits when he was trying to get ahead with the fastball early in the count,” said Richardson, who had two hits and was named to the all-tourney team along with fellow infielder and teammate Craig Brooks. “He started throwing off-speed stuff later. I just wish I had been able to come up with some hits late.”
Tampa took the lead in the fourth as Dezzi hit a one-out single to right, moved on Cody deNoyelles’ two-out walk before Tindall’s two-run triple to right.
“Our lineup has guys who could hit third or fourth on every other team in the country,” said Tindall, who was batting sixth after batting ninth most of the week. “I took a two-strike approach and fortunately I was able to hit one in a good spot.”
The Spartans tacked on the insurance run in the seventh as Brett Jones hit a one-out single to left to end Grant’s outing and then scored on Scoggins’ two-out single to left off Michael Elwell.
“(Calkins) threw a lot of changeups and was really soft,” said Albertson, who was the designated hitter on Saturday. “We have a history of struggling against guys like that. We got ourselves out a lot.”