CARY, N.C. — Before 10 p.m. Thursday, Tampa lefthander Mike Adams had no reason to suspect he’d be the one starting Friday’s elimination game.
After all, Adams is a reliever, and he’s been a reliever since he first put on the Tampa uniform in 2011. Going into Friday, he was 7-0, 2.31 with six saves, 25 appearances and just one career start.
Nevertheless, Adams was informed Thursday night he would start for a second time, and he said he spent the next 20 hours worrying about it.
But once he took the hill at 6 p.m. Friday, those worries fell by the wayside.
Adams was stellar, throwing 79 pitches and six scoreless innings to help lead No.1 Tampa past Grand Valley State (Mich.) 10-1 and into the Division II World Series championship game against No. 2 Minnesota State-Mankato on Saturday.
It’s the first time the two highest-ranked teams in the Collegiate Baseball Division II poll will face off in the final since 2003.
“Normally, I don’t have any time to think about it. It’s just out of the bullpen, get hot, ‘Oh OK, you got the next batter.’ I get about a total of 25 seconds to realize what’s going on,” Adams said.
“But I had almost 24 hours, so I was very anxious for this start. But I went in with the mindset as if you’re out of the bullpen.”
After falling to Grand Valley State 4-0 Thursday to force an elimination game, the rationale for Tampa coach Joe Urso was simple: put your best pitcher on the mound.
“They had just shut us out yesterday, and we felt like we would need some momentum,” Urso said. “We knew that he would throw the goose eggs up there while our offense tried to get into a groove. That was a concern coming into this.”
The Lakers’ Thursday win marked just the second time the mighty Tampa offense had been shut out all season. And on Friday, Urso said he was worried that the Spartans could have difficulty handling Grand Valley State starter Anthony Campanella, who came in 10-4, 1.87 in 101 innings.
Briefly, it seemed as though Tampa could struggle to put runs on the board again. Ahead 1-0, the Spartans loaded the bases in the fourth with no outs, but two weak grounders and two force outs at home threatened to kill the rally.
Then leadoff hitter Connor Obrochta stepped to the plate, and after striking out in five of his last six at-bats, he drilled a grand slam over the wall in left to give the Spartans a 5-0 lead.
“I thought, “Oh no, we’re not going to extend the lead here,” Urso said of the bases-loaded situation. “It was big, big grand slam for Obrochta. He’s had a great year for us all year, had a tough night last night, and this just shows the resilience of this club.”
Tampa has shown that kind of resilience all year — outscoring opponents 106-36 after losses.
“I know our guys don’t take it too lightly, a loss,” Obrochta said. “Our guys after yesterday got a little fired up that today could be our last game.
“And we’re chasing a ring, so we gave it our all today.”