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Grown-up Pasco players help get a win for PHCC

There was something familiar about the Pasco-Hernando Community College softball team, yet something very different.

There was Hudson High's Jenn Murrell on the mound. Sarah Diaz from Land O'Lakes manned second base. Billie Mitchell from Pasco was at third.

And there was Tom Ryan in the third base box, the same man who led Pasco High to the state final four three years ago and now runs the PHCC program.

All told, there were six players from Pasco high schools in the lineup Tuesday against Polk CC, and three on the bench, the very same girls who were the cream of the Pasco softball crop the past two seasons.

The difference? They are not girls any more. They are women playing at a much higher level on scholarship in college and it showed.

No more songs in the dugout.

No more talking to parents or boyfriends through fences.

No exchange of pleasantries with the opponent.

In fact, the players from PHCC and Polk were downright surly toward each other at times. But such is the nature of junior college ball, where talking trash is an accepted part of the game.

Even the umpires were targets as coaches strenuously argued close calls and pitchers questioned balls and strikes. Such transgressions would have meant an automatic ejection in high school, but umpires are taught to be more tolerant at this level.

The carefree days of high school are long gone and players are expected to perform and the umps seemed to understand the pressure.

The Quistas faced that pressure Tuesday when they trailed 3-0 early and went on to put on a show, particularly Murrell, Mitchell and first baseman Gina Schmidt, one of the team's few non-Pasco starters.

PHCC overcame the deficit with seven runs in the fourth inning en route to 9-3 Suncoast Conference victory in the first game of a doubleheader. The Quistas improved to 4-3 in the conference and 24-9 overall. Polk dropped to 2-5 and 13-20.

Ryan, who coached Mitchell and leftfielder Sabrina Kight at Pasco High before moving to PHCC, sees the difference between high school and college ball.

"The girls take it more seriously," he said. "There is more on the line."

The freshman Murrell realized that. She rebounded from a rough start when she allowed three runs in the first two innings and settled down to shut out Polk the rest of the way.

"It's more intense at this level," she said. "It's a whole different game."

But despite the pressure of being behind early, Murrell rebounded, scattering five hits in the final five innings and benefiting from strong defensive play by her teammates after three early errors.

Murrell ran her record to 14-4 and Ryan said the experience of 18 starts helped her.

"That's not a freshman pitching out there anymore," he said. "She has really grown up a lot. I'm not sure if she could have handled that pressure at the beginning of the season."

And her teammates finally delivered in the fourth as Schmidt started the inning with a double and scored, then singled in another run as PHCC batted through the order. The other big hit was Mitchell's triple that cleared the bases.

Sarah Diaz of Land O'Lakes High also went 2-for-3 and scored a run, and Ridgewood's Dawn Fuller scored twice and Prudence Boyer singled in a run.

And when Game 2 started later Tuesday, Lynn Ross of Land O'Lakes was on the mound.

The county is well represented at PHCC and Ryan said that is by design.

"I stay home to recruit," he said. "The quality of ball is that good in Pasco. And that's a tribute to the quality coaches and the quality players who come from this area."