CARY, N.C. — Michael Danner had never gotten such a short hit in his life.
With two outs in the second inning of Sunday’s 1 p.m. Division II College World Series game, the Tampa left fielder popped a ball straight into the air, then saw it drop straight down in fair territory — about three feet to the left of homeplate — for a gift RBI and what’ll look like a line-drive single in the box score.
Danner’s first hit wasn’t much to be proud of, either. In the first inning, he doubled on a pop fly that just dropped in over the head of the Coker shortstop.
Danner laughed when asked about his first two hits in the post-game press conference, but those early defensive deficiencies were significant. They helped Tampa jump out to an early 4-2 lead against the Cobras, and they came back to bite Coker later when the Spartans exploded for eight more runs for a 12-4 win.
“For some reason we couldn’t get used to that air up there or that sky up there or that sun up there, and we gave them way too many extra outs,” Coker coach Dave Schmotzer said. “It takes a toll on you against a good team, and I think it caught up with us later on in the game.”
In his final at-bat Sunday, Danner wouldn’t need any defensive assistance, as he walloped the first home run of the tournament for three runs in Tampa’s five-run eighth inning. The Spartans entered the World Series with one of Division II’s most potent offenses, averaging 8.1 runs per game and sitting seventh in the country with a .424 team on-base percentage.
After a little help early, the hits started falling. Eight of the Spartan’s hits resulted in extra bases, including two home runs, two doubles and four triples — one triple shy of the D-II World Series record.
Each Spartan batter came away with at least one hit, and all but one Spartan scored at least one run.
“It’s been our thing all year: One through nine, we just click,” said third baseman Jake Schrader, who homered. “There’s not that one person that we rely on. Everyone’s got power. Just see ball, hit ball, right?”
They certainly made it look that simple.
The blowout was a stark contrast to Saturday’s games, in which Minnesota State-Mankato, Shippensburg, Franklin Pierce and Grand Valley State combined to score three runs across two games.
In what was far from a pitcher’s duel, Tampa and Coker eclipsed that total by the second inning Sunday.
Coker lefthander Dan Meyer surrendered 10 hits and seven runs (six earned) through his four innings, while Tampa righthander Jon Keller walked five and allowed four runs before giving way to lefty Mike Adams, who stabilized the game with 2 2/3 perfect innings.
Despite all of the late offense, Tampa coach John Urso said that setting the tempo early was key in the Spartans’ victory.
And Coker’s early defensive lapses certainly helped in that regard.
“Every team is so good when they come out here,” Danner said, “and when you get a break like that, I mean, it really helps.”
It also helped Danner add a few points to his batting average.
St. Edward’s Steals A Win
On most days, a complete-game, one-run performance would be cause for celebration.
But it wasn’t for Grand Canyon freshman lefthander Andrew Naderer, whose Antelopes fell 1-0 to St. Edward’s on Sunday.
To make matters worse, the lone run Naderer allowed came on a steal of home by St. Edward’s left fielder Cutter Runte in the fourth inning.
“I wish that I would’ve given up a 500-foot home run instead,” Naderer said. “I can’t do that much about it. Once it leaves my hand, it’s out of my control, so it’s frustrating.”
With two outs and runners on the corners, both runners left on a pickoff attempt to first. St. Edward’s coach Rob Penders said it was a set play: a first-and-third steal designed for a lefty pitcher and a lefty first baseman.
Grand Canyon first baseman Michael Pomeroy’s throw was accurate, but catcher Steven Swingle dropped the ball, allowing Runte to score.
“Coach was letting me know to stay with him,” Runte said. “It’s something we’ve practiced before, and I felt pretty comfortable doing it. The right opportunity arose, and we executed on it.”
Execution was ultimately what the game came down to.
Unlike Tampa’s shellacking of Coker, Sunday’s second matchup was a return to the pitcher-dominated style of play that characterized Saturday’s games. Both teams needed to make the most of the few opportunities they had.
St. Edward’s ace Brannon Easterling, who was 13-3, 2.26 in 123 2/3 innings before Sunday, brought his best stuff against the Antelopes, striking out seven and scattering six hits in his 14th complete game of the year.
However, Grand Canyon had a chance to tie in the sixth with a runner on second and two outs. Swingle singled through the right side of the infield, but a strong throw from right fielder Joe Pirozzolo got the runner heading home to keep Easterling’s shutout intact.
“I never doubt my guys behind me,” Easterling said. “They’ve had my back so many times this year … I had a feeling he was going to send him, and with Joe having a strong arm like he does, I knew he was going to hose him out.”
In such a closely matched duel, those two plays — the steal of home and the throw from right field — decided the game.
“Their lefthander was the toughest guy we’ve seen all year by far and the toughest one I’ve seen probably since I’ve been in Division II,” Pender said. “He pitched his guts out. Brannon pitched his guts out.
“We executed a play when we needed to. They didn’t hold on to the ball, and that’s why we’re winning and they’re losing.”