Sure, you want to win every conference game. Sure, you want to beat the No. 3 junior college team in the state.
But if you're going to lose, better do it early, like the first game. And better do it against the best pitcher in the conference.
After rolling to a 20-8 start, which included a nine-game win streak, the Pasco-Hernando Community College baseball team opened Suncoast Conference play Monday with a hard-fought 5-3 road loss at Manatee CC.
"It's nice to play them earlier in the year and not at the end of the season like we have in the past," said PHCC coach Steve Winterling. "That's a very good team and we were still in it. But we'll have another chance to get them."
The Lancers acquired their high ranking by winning 20 of their last 21 games, and with ace Chris Miller on the mound, proved a little too much for PHCC that day.
Miller, a sixth-round draft pick by the Chicago Cubs last year, was masterful. The sophomore pitched a complete game, gave up seven hits, struck out 10 and did not record a walk.
"There's no doubt that Chris is the best pitcher in the conference," Winterling said. "He's the best we've seen in a while. He's a real competitor. That was a challenge and I told the guys that we will not see a better pitcher than him for the rest of the regular season."
Going into the conference opener, PHCC had scored 37 runs in its last three games and seemed to carry some of the offensive momentum into the second inning against Manatee. First baseman John Halliday singled and later scored on a groundout by Jason Yero to give PHCC a 1-0 lead.
But the Lancers responded immediately. They took advantage of a single, a passed ball, another single, a sacrifice fly, a wild throw to first base, and a fielder's choice and were soon ahead 2-1.
Manatee made it 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth but PHCC came right back to tie. A leadoff double by Matt Alfonso and a base hit by Zack Roper made the score 3-2. Roper scored two outs later on a single by Greg Jones.
"I thought that we held on nicely and stayed in the game," Winterling said. "We had seven hits and three doubles off that kind of pitcher, that's not bad."
With one out, PHCC starter Mike Brunet gave up back-to-back walks and a single to Ryan Channel to load the bases. Danny Frazier replaced Brunet and gave up a double to Paul Stryhas to score two and give Manatee the 5-3 margin.
Brunet (3-5), a sophomore from Land O'Lakes High, pitched 6 innings, allowed five runs on six hits, struck out six and walked four.
"Mike did not pitch a bad game," Winterling said. "But he made a few key mistakes and it's the little things and the walks that can hurt you."
BLISTERING WEEK: The one thing Winterling felt sure of was his team's ability to hit the ball. In the week prior to the conference opener, PHCC had exploded at the plate.
In a 9-3 win over Lincoln Land CC last Wednesday, the Conquistadors erased a 2-0 deficit thanks to a strong performance by second baseman Sherwin Lockridge. He was 1-for-2 with a three-run homer and an RBI sacrifice fly. Freshman Andrew Beattie went 3-for-4 with a homer and Roper was 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI. Halliday added a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth.
Brunet pitched seven innings, gave up two runs on seven hits and struck out two to get his third win of the season.
On Thursday, PHCC pounded out 17 hits and cruised to a 16-0 blanking of Owens CC.
Leading the hit parade was Alfonso, who went 3-for-3 with a double, three RBI and five runs scored. Halliday was 2-for-4 with two RBI, and Jones was also 2-for-4 with three RBI. Three other Conquistadors had multiple hits while Lockridge and Tyson Ellis both homered.
In a 12-5 beating of Worchester State, sophomore slugger/pitcher Ryan Snellings broke out of his slump at the plate when he went 3-for-4 with two home runs and five RBI. Sophomore Kris Parrish (4-1) got the win as he pitched five innings and gave up two runs on three hits.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: The Conquistadors are getting a real team effort at the plate. Nine players are hitting over .300 and eight of them are regulars. Lockridge leads with a healthy .356 average. He also has 12 doubles, three homers, 28 RBI and four steals.
Roper, a freshman third baseman from Tarpon Springs High, has a team-high 29 RBI, nine doubles, two triples, three home runs, and a .314 average.
The Conquistadors have six players with 20 or more RBI and have a team total of 202.
"It's great when you can get that kind of production up and down the lineup," Winterling said. "Right now, we're hitting well and driving in the runs."
The Conquistadors, who have 19 conference games left, have stolen 84 bases, eclipsing the school record of 76 set in the 1992 season.