The Saint Leo College men's basketball team is riding a rare hot streak heading into the Sunshine State Conference tournament this weekend at the University of Tampa.
The Monarchs, 14-12 overall, won just one of their first seven conference games before closing with victories in five of their last seven.
Fifth in the conference with a record of 6-8, Saint Leo will meet No. 4 Florida Tech (15-11, 7-7) in the opening round Friday at 6:30 p.m.
"A basket here and a basket there and this could have been a great year," said first-year coach Todd Smyly, who inherited a 4-21 squad from last season. "Not that it's been bad anyway. We were just close to winning a lot more games."
A pre-conference mark of 8-4 helped ease the tension of Saint Leo's early losing streak in conference play.
"Even though we got off to a bad start, the whole team had a lot of confidence," Smyly said. "We were playing everyone close. We were competitive."
Three senior captains _ Chris Skyers, Joey Brauer and Jason Sartor _ have led the assault, but Keith Bowman, a previously unknown player who came on after the Christmas break, has been instrumental in Saint Leo's recent success.
"For the first time all season we've been able to go eight-deep in the lineup and that has helped us become a better team," Smyly explained. "Even though Keith has taken minutes away from all the starters, any of our top eight guys can lead us in scoring on any given night."
Three other seniors also are seeing the last of their playing days at Saint Leo _ Chris Ward of Tallerast, Ryan O'Connell of Spring Hill and Bill Zimmerman of Dickinson, Texas.
Saint Leo women: The Lady Monarchs basketball team was eliminated from the conference tourney with a 102-58 loss to Florida Southern on Tuesday in Tampa. They finished with an overall record of 8-19 _ one of the better marks in recent years.
Laketra Lofton, a 6-foot-1 center, was named to the all-conference freshman team and was an honorable-mention selection for all-conference. She led Saint Leo with 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Saint Leo softball: The Monarchs will host a tournament Friday through Sunday at the Little League fields in Zephyrhills.
The field includes the University of Tampa, Eckerd College, Queens College of North Carolina, Shaw University of North Carolina, Davis and Elkins College of West Virginia, Queens College of New York, Barry University, Mississippi College, Ferris State College of Michigan, and Dowling College of New York.
The coaches will team up for a free youth clinic Saturday at 6 p.m. and the public is invited. The fields are located off Highway 301.
PHCC baseball: The Pasco-Hernando Community College team, directed by Steve Winterling, will play a pair of games with St. Petersburg Junior College this weekend _ Friday at 3 p.m. in Clearwater, and Saturday at 2 p.m. in New Port Richey.