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PHCC drops Game 1 in conference playoff

Both St. Petersburg Junior College coach Dave Pano and Pasco-Hernando Community College coach Steve Winterling had the same reaction to Saturday's Suncoast Conference playoff game.

"I was kind of disappointed in our pitching," Pano said.

"Pitching was not there at all," Winterling said.

The teams combined for 31 hits and five home runs in St. Petersburg's 13-10 victory, with the biggest blow being Oscar Ramirez's solo shot off losing pitcher Karl Sabo with one out in the top of the 10th inning. The blast gave the visiting Trojans an 11-10 lead. SPJC reached its final margin of victory on Joel Lundrigan's two-run single.

The win put St. Petersburg (25-15-1) up 1-0 in the best-of-three series. The winner advances as the conference's second entry to the state tournament. Manatee got an automatic bid by finishing first in the regular season.

The second game is 2 p.m. today at St. Petersburg. The third game, if necessary, will be 3 p.m. Monday at PHCC.

Pano is not resting easy.

"They're too good of a team to do that," he said. "You know when you play them you have to score or you won't win the game. We battled and we can play, but they are the club I fear."

But all the hitting in the world doesn't matter if you give away runs.

SPJC scored four unearned to take a 7-5 lead in the fifth after shortstop Mike Aranda's bad throw to first allowed two runs and prolonged the inning. That came after leftfielder Brian Allem lost Andrew Beattie's fly ball and let it drop for a double.

Still, St. Petersburg had the more potent bats. The top four in the Trojan lineup - Alfredo Amezaga, Beattie, Ramirez and Rick Stegbauer - were 10-for-20 with two home runs, a double, five RBI and nine runs. Stegbauer's two-run blast in the first off Steven Howie opened the scoring. Lundrigan had three hits and four RBI.

PHCC (30-11) did its share of swatting. Allem was 4-for-5 with a home run, two doubles and three RBI. Jason Yero and Ryan Park also homered to give the team three off starter Shaw Bobonis. Aranda had two hits and three RBI.

But despite tying the score at 10 in the ninth on consecutive doubles by Zack Roper and Yero, the Conquistadors failed in two other key situations.

Tied at 8 in the seventh, PHCC had runners on first and second and none out. But winning pitcher Frank Burke got Roper to fly to center, popped Yero to second and struck out John Halliday.

Trailing 10-9 in the eighth, PHCC had second and third with one out. But Burke got Raul Cruz to pop to short and Aranda to fly to center.

"Key hits, two-strike hits, two-out hits. That wins games or you," Winterling said. "They did a better job at that than we did."