NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco-Hernando State College’s road to the Southeast District championship in baseball hardly followed an ideal script. The Bobcats rallied from an opening loss to reel off six do-or-die victories and earn the second Division II College World Series berth in school history.
“That’s incredible,” said athletic director Steve Winterling, the school’s longtime baseball coach who stepped down before this season. “I don’t think that’s happened too many times.
“That 2014 team (the school changed from Pasco-Hernando Community College before that season) just always believed in themselves. They got along all year. This year’s team is just a bunch of hard-nosed guys. They really just came out on fire at the right time.”
PHSC’s improbable run through the loser’s bracket of the National Junior College Athletic Association D-II tournament in Greenville, N.C., followed a 13-8 loss to host Pitt Community College (N.C.). The first of six straight wins was the closest and perhaps most rewarding game as the third-seeded Bobcats edged Wake Technical CC (N.C.) 7-6 in 10 innings.
Coming out of the loser’s bracket PHSC had to beat Brunswick CC (N.C.) twice for the title and they did with 5-2 and 6-1 wins. The Bobcats, who avenged their loss to Pitt with an 8-0 shutout before taking on Brunswick twice, now head to Enid, Okla., for the College World Series, which starts Saturday.
“We were just riding some momentum,” said first-year coach Lyndon Coleman, a former PHSC player (2009-10) and an assistant to Winterling for the previous three seasons. “All the pressure was on (Brunswick, the tourney’s top seed and ranked eighth in the nation). We had nothing to lose.”
Coming off a 36-win season, one short of the school record of 37 set in 2009, Coleman purposely put together a tougher schedule than in recent years to challenge his players.
“That was good, because it prepared us for the postseason,” he said.
Clutch hitting in the series came from Ryan Ayrey, a .309 hitter whose RBI groundout in the 10th led to the win against Wake Tech. Ayrey also belted a two-run homer in a three-run sixth during the championship game.
Solid starting pitching came through in the final three wins of the district tourney with left-handers Taylor Rohrer and Kyle Khachadourian, along with ace right-hander Sean Osceola tossing complete games.
Osceola is the workhorse on the mound. In 92 innings, he is 8-6 with 85 strikeouts and a 3.13 ERA. Khachadourian is 6-2 with 82 strikeouts and a 2.10 ERA. Right-hander Andrew Karch has a 6-2 record, 43 strikeouts and a 3.43 ERA while southpaw Ayrey is 4-2 and has fanned 42 with a 4.61 ERA.
The Bobcats had ample firepower at the plate with four players batting .290 or better. Connor Berry hits .310, slightly ahead of Ayrey. Brayden Lyman is at .302 and Michael Haydak bats at a .290 clip.
The team’s top power hitters are Anthony Cassos with six home runs, 19 doubles and 38 RBIs; Lyman has five homers, a team-high 20 doubles and 42 RBIs; Nicholas Alessi is the RBId leader at 44 to go along with three homers and 10 doubles; and Haydak has 11 doubles and 42 RBIs.
As has always been the case, the roster is full of players from the Tampa Bay and North Suncoast areas. The 23-man roster features 11 from those combined areas.
“We live and die by the local players that come out of here,” Coleman said. “I take a lot of pride in that.”
Next: NJCAA Division II College World Series.
When/where: May 25-31 in Enid, Okla.