NCAA Tournament: Heartbreaking Finish Ends Florida Tech’s Championship Aspirations

By  //  May 18, 2015

Ends 2015 Season 38-13

Freshman Daniel Szpik was named to the NCAA South Region All-Tournament Team on Sunday. (Photo by Amanda Stratford Photography)

BREVARD COUNTY  • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – The old saying “Baseball is a game of inches” is often over termed and rarely taken to heart. But on Sunday afternoon at Tartt Field on the campus of West Alabama, the legendary mantra was proven, and in quite a devastating manner.

Trailing Tampa by a run with one out and Tyler Doughty on third in the bottom of the 10th, Daniel Szpik fouled off pitch after pitch in an attempt to keep Florida Tech’s postseason dreams alive.

Finally able to square a fastball up, the freshman scorched a line drive into center field.

Tyler Doughty
Tyler Doughty

Watching the centerfielder backpedal to make the grab, Tyler Doughty retreated to the base to force an all-or-nothing play at the plate. However, on this particular occasion, the ball beat him by just inches, handing the NCAA South Region title to the Spartans for the third consecutive season.

Placed in the loser’s bracket after Thursday’s defeat, the Panthers climbed all the way back into the regional championship following two consecutive thrilling victories over top-seed West Alabama and Lynn.

Their gutsy effort ultimately fell short, though, falling 5-4 in 10 innings Sunday.

Greg Berkemeier
Greg Berkemeier

“We told them after Thursday’s loss that we had an opportunity to blow up the bracket, and they took that and ran with it,” said head coach Greg Berkemeier, whose club finishes the year at 38-13.

“When you lose the first game and then have to play the No. 1 seed on their field, nobody expects you to win. You’re expected to be going home. The guys battled. This team battled all year, and even today, there was never a die attitude.

“Our hats go off to Tampa. I know they’re going to represent our conference well. It was an outstanding effort, and I’m very proud of our guys,” said Berkemeier.

Less than 24 hours removed from earning the win in a 2.2 inning-effort against Lynn, Jerrod Leinhauser tossed a season-high eight innings in a gritty performance.

The senior surrendered four earned runs on six hits while striking out four to give Florida Tech a legitimate chance in its fourth game in four days.

“Lein did a great job finding a way to give us a quality start,” said Berkemeier.

“We were just hoping to get a couple innings out of him, and he goes out and gives us seven great innings. Even in the eighth inning, it was Tampa finding a way to get a couple of balls to bounce through. It wasn’t like he was pitching poorly there either.”

Trailing 1-0 in the fifth, the tail end of the lineup, yet again, ignited a Florida Tech rally.

Reaching on a hit by pitch and a walk, David Wilson and Kevin Wortman set the table for the top of the order.

After initially showing bunt on a couple of pitches out the zone, Reid Neal then faked the sacrifice and slapped a single through the infield to score Wilson on a bang-bang play at the plate.

Grant  McKown
Grant McKown

Grant McKown roped a RBI double on the very next pitch, and Austin Allen added a sacrifice fly to give the spirited Panthers a 3-1 lead.

Still threatening two batters later, a ball in the dirt squirted away from the Tampa catcher, allowing McKown to score from third. With a 4-1 advantage, Florida Tech could sense the Spartans falling back on their heels.

However, Tampa connected on a solo homer in the seventh, making the contest that much more interesting.

With the lead cut to 4-3 in the eighth, the Panthers then returned the favor with a costly wild pitch of their own. Getting a great read on a ball that scooted just far enough away from Allen, Tampa’s Giovanny Alfonzo slid in safely to knot the score at 4-4.

Short on arms, Berkemeier turned to usual starter Scotty Ward out of the bullpen in crunch time.

After a perfect 1-2-3 ninth, Ward was dealt the tough task of facing the top of the Spartan order in extra innings. Using small ball to perfection, the Spartans’ lead-off batter reached on a single up the middle and later advanced into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. He was then able to steal third, and in textbook fashion, score on a sacrifice fly to center.

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The Panthers didn’t give in though, needing a run with only three outs to do so.

After working a full count, Doughty laced a fastball through the left side of the infield to put the tying run on base. Still with no outs, he was able to advance all the way to third on a balk and a wild pitch to put Florida Tech in business.

Daniel Szpik
Daniel Szpik

Following a strike out, Daniel Szpik stepped into the batter’s box. Falling behind early in the count, he fouled off four consecutive pitches, timing them up better and better each time.

He eventually barreled the two-strike offering into center, before Tampa made the winning play to preserve the championship.

Florida Tech outhit Tampa by a 10-to-8 margin in the losing effort, including at least two from Allen, Doughty, McKown and Neal.

Allen, McKown and Szpik were named to the NCAA South Region All-Tournament immediately following the game.