The picture has not exactly been rosy of late for the Pasco-Hernando Community College baseball team, which has not made the state tournament since 1997 and returns just three starters from a losing team.
A 6-3 start, however, has coach Steve Winterling speaking of brighter days to come. An influx of talent helps, added the coach who has been with the program since its 1992 inception.
"We lost a lot, but when you're 22-27 (last season) you need to bring better athletes in," Winterling said. "Everything's better."
Well, maybe not everything. Winterling said the offense needs to improve to catch up to other areas.
"We have good pitching and good defense," Winterling said. "It really hasn't been the bats. Last year we didn't have any defense and that just decimated the pitching staff. They threw a lot of extra innings."
Erik Bua (Ridgewood) evened his record at 1-1 by throwing his best nine innings of the season Monday. The right-hander, a sophomore transfer from Florida Southern, tossed a five-hit shutout and struck out 10 with no walks in a 4-0 win over St. Johns.
"He had better command of his pitches," Winterling said, comparing Monday's outing to a three-inning, five-run stint in a 12-3 loss to Central Florida CC on Feb. 15. "He missed down when he missed (the strike zone)."
Next up on the mound is Derek Shaw, a right-hander from Mitchell who starts today when PHCC hosts Central Florida CC at 3 p.m. At 3-0, Shaw is the Conquistadors' winningest pitcher and has a 2.92 ERA. Rounding out the rotation are Danny Keefe and Tony Pawlik.
Two of PHCC's three returning players, Kyle Albright and Ryan Pearson (Crystal River), rank among the team's top hitters. Brian Carr, a middle reliever from Mitchell with five appearances, also returns.
Albright, who moved across the diamond to first base to make room for third baseman Richie Sowell, bats third and is hitting .306 with a team-high two home runs and five RBIs. Pearson, a designated hitter who also plays some at first base, has a .379 batting average. That ranks third behind Sowell, the leader at .500 and Chris Harley's .393. Harley, a second baseman, has a team-high six RBIs.
There are no returners among PHCC's top four outfielders, which is fine with Winterling, who says this year's group "is about a 100 percent improvement."
Junior Mejia, a leadoff hitter with a .350 average, four doubles and four stolen bases, is the rightfielder. In center is Louie Oliveri, a strong-armed freshman from Mitchell. Freshman Anthony Rawson (Wesley Chapel), who is hitting at a .310 clip, is in left. And the first outfielder off the bench is Chris Lopez.
Winterling said the most improved outfielder as the season progresses could be Rawson, who made more of a name for himself as a quarterback than an outfielder for the Wildcats. With football no longer an option, Rawson is focused solely on baseball. "The more he plays the better he'll get," Winterling said.
For additional information on Pasco-Hernando Community College and Saint Leo baseball teams, including rosters and schedules, click on school Web sites phcc.edu and saintleo.edu and go to athletics.