When Dave Pano took over for Bill Hemme as the baseball coach at St. Petersburg Junior College this year, he decided to make some changes. Pano, a long time American Legion coach for Madeira Beach Post 273, started from scratch.
He didn't keep a single player from last year's 13-29 team. He used his local influence to attract area players and started the season with a new team. The result was a 26-16-1 season and a second-place finish the Suncoast Conference.
And most important, the Trojans earned a berth in the Florida Community College state tournament for the first time since 1977. SPJC will play Gulf Coast Community College at 3:30 today at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee.
"I knew we had a good club," Pano said. "I just didn't know how good we'd be. All of the guys have worked real hard to get where we are."
In order to get to the state tournament, the Trojans had to play a mini-tournament against Polk Community College and Pasco-Hernando Community College. After beating Polk, SPJC played a best-of-three series against PHCC. It won the third game 10-5 to advance.
Former Osceola pitcher Steve Maroudis has emerged as the top pitcher. Maroudis, who will start today, is 8-4 with a 3.53 ERA. Former Seminole player Rick Stegbauer is hitting .402, former Clearwater and PHCC standout Andrew Beattie is hitting .326 with seven homers despite missing a month with a torn ligament in his ankle. Oscar Ramirez of Miami is hitting .414 to lead the team.
Pano is hoping the Trojans don't have to wait another 21 years for a state tournament appearance.
"It used to be that kids would leave and play elsewhere," Pano said. "Hopefully, with this success we can keep them here. This is a great area talent-wise. We're hoping this is the start of building a successful program."
The SPJC softball team also will be in Kissimmee, having finished tied for first in the Suncoast Conference. The Trojans are seeded as the No. 2 Suncoast Conference team and will play Tallahassee Community College at 6 p.m. Thursday. It's the third straight state tournament for Dr. Lance Lamport's team.
This is the first time SPJC has sent both baseball and softball teams to the state tourney. Overall, four of the five varsity teams went to state tournaments.