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PHCC can look back on baseball season with pride

Steve Winterling has no problem pumping up his Pasco-Hernando Community College baseball team.

The Conquistadors' season is over after losing a best-of-three series with St. Petersburg Junior College for an entry in the state tournament. But Winterling said the winningest season in PHCC history was significant because the team was without three starting pitchers and its closer _ all lost to injuries _ for much of the season.

"I'm disappointed for the guys for not getting to the state tournament," Winterling said, "but they are intelligent enough to realize what they accomplished under the circumstances. They feel there's not another team that could have pulled it off."

PHCC finished 31-12 and set 38 individual and team records.

"An outstanding season," Winterling said. "With the overall record and the way we played, this was the best team we ever had."

The high points came earlier this month. Struggling at 3-5 in the Suncoast Conference, PHCC swept two games from eventual champion Manatee. Two weeks later, while surging to second place and a bye in the first round of the playoffs, the Conquistadors beat Polk 8-7 in 15 innings.

"That turned the tide," Winterling said.

What ultimately saved PHCC, though, was the work of shortstop Mike Aranda, second baseman Raul Cruz and outfielder Jason Branch, who filled in as relievers after starters Kevin Fee (shoulder), Danny Frazier (elbow) and Dan Stillman (elbow), and reliever Nick Bridenback (groin) were lost.

Cruz was 2-1 with a save and a 1.93 ERA. Aranda had a save and a 3.00 ERA. Both will be back in limited pitching roles next season.

"With the situation they were in, they showed the competitive nature they have," Winterling said of his fill-ins. "They really did a fine job."

Winterling's post-season awards:

MVP: John Halliday. The sophomore first baseman batted .393 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI. The Suncoast Conference player of the year has signed with FSU.

Unsung hero: Ryan Park. After a slow start, the sophomore outfielder batted .380 with eight home runs and 35 RBI.

RECRUITING TRAIL: Aranda and Cruz are the only starting position players returning. Winterling said he has signed first baseman Tanner Rhoden, son of ex-major-leaguer Rick Rhoden, from Daytona Beach Father Lopez High. Former Ridgewood star Robbie Robertson will be back at catcher after redshirting.

PHCC will lose some pitching depth with the graduation of Fee, Frazier and Bridenback. Winterling said he is planning to bring in five or six pitchers to a staff that returns starters Steven Howie, Simon Stoner and Karl Sabo.

REVIVAL: The Saint Leo baseball team stayed in the hunt for post-season play with a three-game sweep over Barry, at the time ranked No. 8 in the Collegiate Baseball Division II poll. The Monarchs (34-17) also got a lift when the Sunshine State Conference ruled a previous loss to Rollins is a forfeit victory because Rollins used an ineligible player.

Four teams from the 26-school NCAA South Region will be selected for post-season play.

RESCHEDULE: Saint Leo has added Florida State to its schedule on May 6. The game at Lynn that day has been rescheduled as part of a May 5 doubleheader. Today's games against St. Thomas were canceled.

HONORS: Saint Leo's Patrick Bowen was named SSC pitcher of the week after his complete-game victory over Barry. Matt Gifford was named offensive player of the week after going 6-for-13 with two home runs and seven RBI in the Barry series.

SEASON-ENDER: The Saint Leo softball team finished 30-36 with freshman pitcher Desiree Croteau setting five school records: wins (24), innings (362), appearances (59), strikeouts (192) and doubles (20). She also led the team in runs (26), triples (3), home runs (3) and RBI (37).

Freshman outfielder Audrey Friedland was named SSC player of the week after going 7-for-15 with a double and three RBI.