College baseball: Indians end special season with semifinal loss to Tampa

Published 2:24 pm Friday, June 7, 2024

Staff report

CARY — Eight-time national champs, the University of Tampa’s baseball team may be headed to No. 9.

Tampa handled Catawba 7-2 on Thursday in the Division II World Series to stay undefeated in the event and move into the championship game.

Third-seeded Catawba (46-17) was eliminated, finishing fourth and ending an epic bounce-back season just one win shy of the program record for victories.

Tampa, ranked No. 1 nationally even though it’s the No. 2 seed for this tournament, is frequently waiting for Catawba in the World Series and beat the Indians in the championship game in 2015.

This was Catawba’s fourth trip to the World Series and first since 2019.

The other teams still alive in the event are Angelo State and IUP. They’ll play Friday with the winner advancing to play Tampa.

Ranked ninth nationally, Catawba sent young relief ace Hayden Simmerson to the mound to start the game. The hard-throwing right-hander was greeted by a homer by Tampa lead-off batter EJ Cumbo. A bases-loaded walk later in the first inning gave Tampa a 2-0 lead.

Mike Valdez socked a two-run homer in the third for a 4-0 Tampa lead.

Coles Hales had an RBI single for the Indians in the top of the fourth, but when Cumbo answered with his second homer of the day against Simmerson in the bottom of the inning, a two-run blast, the Indians were down 6-1.

Payne Stolsworth, who allowed one run in two innings, and Mason Gwyn, who threw three scoreless innings, followed Simmerson (3-4) to the mound. They performed admirably, but there was no comeback.

Jake Stipp (7-1) was the winning pitcher for Tampa (51-8).

Hales had another run-scoring single in the sixth and accounted for both Catawba RBIs.

Bo Rusher, Dylan Driver, Logan Rogers and Cooper Bryson had a hit apiece for the Indians.

It was a special season for head coach Jim Gantt, as championship banners returned to Newman Park.

Many local players thrived for the Indians, including Rusher and Stolsworth who got to play in front of their families every home game after playing the bulk of their college careers at Gardner-Webb and NC Wesleyan, respectively.

Tampa has won national titles in 1992, 1993, 1998, 2006, 2007, 2013, 2015 and 2019.


Gantt finished the season with 990 victories as a Catawba head coach, so No. 1,000 should come early in the 2025 season, hopefully at Newman Park.

Gantt, who has been head coach of the Indians for 28 seasons, was the South Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year and was named Southeast Region Cocach of the Year by the National College Baseball Writers Association. This was Gantt’s 10th season with 40 or more wins.

Stolsworth was named first team All-Southeast Region by the NCBWA, while shortstop Levi Perrell was second team.

Rusher, a catcher, and Stolsworth were second team on the American Baseball Coaches Association All-Southeast Region team.

The National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors named Stolsworth and third baseman/pitcher Hales first team All-Southeast Region.  Rusher and  Perrell made the second team.

Stolsworth was the SAC Pitcher of the Year, while Simmerson was the SAC Freshman of the Year.

Perrell and Rusher were first team All-SAC. Pitcher Austin Fine, left fielder Drew Robertson, right fielder Driver and center fielder Hunter were second team.