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Titans are facing stretch run with a thinner bench

It has not been the happiest of new years thus far for St. Petersburg College. The Titans were sitting pretty with a 14-3 record heading into January and looking forward to making a run at another Suncoast Conference championship.

That goal is still very much a possibility, but they will have to do it with a thinner roster.

First came the news that freshman forward Kevin Dorsey will not be healthy enough to play the rest of the season. The former Lakewood standout and Times player of the year in 2002, has two bulging discs in his back. Dorsey tried to play two games in December but the pain was too much.

Dorsey redshirted last season and will be a sophomore if he returns next year.

"I just don't think we need to risk it with Kevin," SPC coach Earnest Crumbley said. "What if we decide to play him and then something serious happens to him? There are more important things."

Next came the news that freshman guard Jermaine Green quit to return home to Baltimore. Green was unhappy with his lack of playing time.

And finally, sophomore forward John Haynesworth is just getting back into playing shape after struggling nearly a month with the flu. Haynesworth was in the lineup Tuesday against Hillsborough CC, a 64-52 win that snapped a two-game losing streak.

"We're a little thin right now, which puts a little pressure on our starters," Crumbley said. "But those guys have done a good job all season."

Kory Crumbley, Damitrius Coleman, McHugh Mattis and Benjamin Bridges have been in the starting lineup most of the season. Paul Vega has provided depth at guard and Chad Cosmo has been solid as a forward/guard reserve.

Those players are crucial to SPC's chances of getting back to the junior college state tournament, which it won in 2002. The Titans (15-5) are in a race for the conference championship with Manatee CC and Polk CC, and key games against those teams remain. The state tournament is March 3 at Chipola CC.

"What we want to do right now is stay in games and try to win them in the end," Crumbley said. "We like to run, we won't change that. But we need to play smart down the stretch."

IN THE HUNT: While Wednesday's 57-44 loss to Lynn was disappointing, it didn't destroy Eckerd's hopes of winning a Sunshine State Conference regular-season championship for the first time since 1995. Prior to Saturday's game against Barry, the Tritons were 11-6, 4-2 and one game behind Florida Southern.

Despite Eckerd's recent success, including an appearance in the Elite Eight last season, winning a regular-season championship has been just out of grasp.

"I think it is more prestigious to win the regular season championship opposed to the tournament championship because it judges how you did for the length of the season," Eckerd coach Tom Ryan said. "But I always tell our guys that the most important thing is to improve each game. Get better each game and by the end of the season we'll be in a position to win."

That is why Ryan is disappointed his team took a step back against Lynn. The Tritons were held 32 points below their scoring average of 76.7. Lynn outrebounded the Tritons 46-34.

"We took a step back defensively," Ryan said. "What we can control is how hard we play, hustle plays like rebounding, and we did not play hard for the most part against Lynn. "

Eckerd still has a long way to go before the final conference game Feb. 25 against Lynn. Until then, Ryan said he will not watch the scoreboard to see how other rivals are doing.

"Maybe if it comes down to the last game of the season and we need a team to lose or something, then I'll scoreboard watch," Ryan said.

BASEBALL: The season is right around the corner. Eckerd begins Jan. 31 at the University of Tampa. The Tritons were picked to finish seventh in the eight-team conference in a poll of coaches and sports information directors..

St. Petersburg College begins Feb. 2 at home against Central Florida CC. The Titans went to the state tournament last season and have won three straight Suncoast Conference championships. Home games are at Clearwater's Carpenter Complex.