The University of Tampa baseball team's goals this season all lead to one thing – to be remembered.
The No. 1-ranked Spartans (38-8) have chipped away at the steps coach Joe Urso laid out to accomplish that feat. The first was capturing the Sunshine State Conference title — check. The next comes over the next several days in the NCAA Division II South Region tournament, which begins today at the University of Tampa Baseball Field.
"We had three goals this year as a team," Urso said. "The first we just accomplished winning the SSC title, the second is to win the South Regional and the third is to win a national title.
"That's the one you are remembered for."
Tampa has won five national titles: 1992, 1993, 1998, 2006 and 2007. The Spartans have reached the NCAA tournament in each of Urso's 12 seasons and are looking for their 15th South Region title.
They face a number of challenges to accomplish their next goal. The eight-team field in the double-elimination tournament boasts SSC runner-up Lynn, the 2009 national champion, defending national champion West Florida and No. 2 seed Delta State (40-12) of Mississippi.
The Spartans players are well aware of the program's rich tradition, which includes back-to-back titles under Urso in 2006 and 2007.
"We don't see it as a pressure to live up to, but an opportunity to continue to do well," Spartans senior pitcher Sean Bierman said. "We are trying to follow through with the success they have had here."
Bierman (8-2), a left-hander, has been stellar at the top of the Spartans' rotation this year, posting a 1.93 era in 14 starts and earning SSC pitcher of the year honors. Urso, named the SSC coach of the year, has a wealth of talent on the mound in SSC All-Conference first teamer Ben O'Shea (7-1) and junior Ben Brown (8-2), who have given the Spartans consistent starts.
"I think those team's we've had in the past have relied on one or two pitchers," Urso said. "This team has multiple guys who can get us through a game and our starters have been solid all season."
"It's a nice luxury as a coach to know the guy you are putting out on the mound is going to give you that quality start and that's what our starters have done."
Though pitching has been strong, the team's well-roundedness has gotten them this far, Urso said.
The offense has six starters hitting .297 or better as senior Andrew Jones (.370, 33 runs and 47 RBI) and sophomore Connor Obrochta (.361, 46 runs and 21 RBI) key a potent lineup.
Senior Eric Grabe, who has chipped in with a .299 batting average, 28 runs and 35 RBI, said the Spartans success stems from everyone on the team stepping up at one time or another.
"It's always enjoyable to be a part of a winning tradition," Grabe said. "But the key to this team is everybody is a leader."
"There isn't one guy who is leading it. This is everybody taking on a role of being a leader, which makes this a really exciting team to be around."
Tampa is not looking past today's opponent, Alabama's Stillman College.
"It all comes down to one game at a time and it's about beating that team," Grabe said. "It's not about any individual opponent, but it is about us doing everything we can on that day to win the game."
Urso has preached a "total-team" theory from Day One, but in the end everything comes down to accomplishing those goals, especially the third one.
"The big goal is to get more national championships on that board," Urso said.
"That's the expectation and that's why these kids come here. They put on that uniform to have a chance to win it all and that's how they become a part of the history of University of Tampa baseball."
And be remembered.