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PHCC sizzling to start season

Topping last season's 25 wins might be a given at this stage for the Pasco-Hernando Community College softball team.

The Conquistadors (13-3, 4-0 Suncoast Conference) should probably set their sights higher. Like becoming the fifth team in school history with at least 40 wins or advancing further than in last year's state series when they went two-and-out.

PHCC has seven state appearances in the past nine seasons, but last year a 25-21 season ended with just one run in two state losses.

"We have solid pitching and defense and offense, so it's working out pretty good," said coach Tom Ryan, who entered his 11th season at PHCC with a 355-262 record.

Heading into today's home game at 2 against Lake Sumter, PHCC has a team batting average of .325 and an .899 fielding percentage.

The pitching staff, led by sophomore starters Cassie Pearson (Crystal River) and Chrissy Carter (Hernando), has a 1.67 ERA with 84 strikeouts and 42 walks.

In Thursday's doubleheader sweep of Hillsborough, Pearson tossed a two-hitter in a 9-1 win and Carter pitched a one-hitter in a 10-0 win. PHCC's offense had 20 total hits in the two games.

PHCC has a balanced blend of 11 sophomores (10 returners) and a dozen freshman. Only two freshmen - leftfielder Stephanie Seaman (River Ridge) and catcher Ja'Vonna Grimsley (Crystal River) - start.

"Experience is a great teacher from one year to the next," Ryan said.

The Conquistadors' starting lineup reads like an all-star team from Pasco and Hernando counties. The outsider is sophomore Katie O'Neill, a switch-hitting rightfielder from Chamberlain.

Among the starters, centerfielder April Slate and first baseman Andy Babij were teammates at Land O'Lakes; second baseman Liz Kirby and Krysti Dimartino played together at Ridgewood.

"It's definitely local flavor this year," Ryan said. "They know each other. They're in familiar territory."

Even the sophomore newcomer is a familiar face. Shauna Kortas, who played at Ridgewood, transfered after a season at South Florida CC.

In leadoff hitter Slate and Seaman, who bats second, PHCC boasts two tablesetters who were among Pasco County's leading run producers and average leaders for four seasons. And Seaman played on three state tournament qualifiers at River Ridge.

It seems both have picked up where they left off in high school. Slate has a .365 average with 16 runs and 17 stolen bases. Seaman is hitting .293 with 10 runs and seven steals.

"They do a lot of things," Ryan said. "If one doesn't get on (base) the other does. And if they both get on you can do all sorts of things."

Carter, Grimsley and Babij are entrusted with getting Slate and/or Seaman home as the third, cleanup and fifth hitters, respectively. Babij has a team-high 11 RBIs and averages .357. Carter is hitting .333 and Grimsley has the team's lone home run.

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