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Tritons are counting on pitchers to deliver

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2003

In the recent past, Eckerd College baseball coach Bill Mathews had to hope his team could score plenty of runs and get enough pitching to win. But this season the Tritons are heavy on pitching and lack experienced every-day players.

If it is not one thing, it's another. Mathews, however, isn't complaining. The game is built around pitching, and he hopes that means more victories after a 26-29 record in 2002.

"This is the deepest pitching staff I've ever had here," said Mathews, in his 12th Eckerd season. "And we've got a senior outfield.

"The unique thing about this team though is that of the eight position players -- all are either new or are playing a different position," he said. "With something like that, you just hope the ball doesn't become an ugly-finder."

Mathews has had to juggle his outfield after the first week due to injuries.

Senior Josh Beauregard has been sidelined a few games with a hamstring injury, and Matt Regan is out 3-4 weeks with a lower back strain.

That's caused Mathews to do some shuffling. Senior Chris Brooks has been temporarily moved from right to center field, and senior Eric Ferraz is in right. The infield has changed dramatically since last season.

Junior Bill Evers, who split time at first and third base, is at third every day. Junior Nick Byrd is at second, and Chris Rosende moved from second to shortstop. Junior Sam DeVito will play first. But the pitchers will need little tweaking.

In Eckerd's first four games, Mathews used a four-man rotation -- left-hander Corbin Sponholtz and right-handers Jason Wishin, Eric Canestrari and Andre Steele. That likely will remain the main group. "I was very pleased with the starters," Mathews said. "They did a good job of throwing strikes. Barring any injuries, they should get a lot of innings.

"Arms are always the hardest thing to find, no matter what level. So I think we're fortunate to have a deep staff."

The Tritons will not play a Sunshine State Conference opponent until mid-March, so the early part of the season will be spent gaining experience.

The biggest experience may come Feb. 28 when Eckerd takes on the Devil Rays at Florida Power Park in manager Lou Piniella's Tampa Bay debut.

"It was our turn in the rotation I think," Mathews said of the exhibition game. "That's going to be a great experience for our kids."

Beating the Rays may not be likely, and according to history, winning the conference isn't either.

That is the Triton's objective, but with national powers Tampa and Florida Southern in the league, it could be a lofty goal.

"You have to love playing in a conference like this," Mathews said. "It's so tough from top to bottom. It's going to test you every game."

SPC: St. Petersburg College has spent the past five years in the upper echelon of the state's JUCO baseball. This season likely will be no different.

The Titans have 17 sophomores, and with that kind of experience coach Dave Pano expects his team to do well. "Things are looking good so far," said Pano, whose Titans are 3-1. "We'll spend these early games looking for the right chemistry and getting guys innings. We want to be ready once (Suncoast) conference games begin," he said.

SPC should be strong on the mound with three starters returning. T.J. Large (Seminole High), Jason Costello (Clearwater) and Mike Simard received plenty of innings last season. Former Dunedin pitcher Bryan Banks should become the Titans' fourth starter.

BASKETBALL: With the Sunshine State Conference season just past the mid-way point, the Eckerd men's team isn't among the elite. But it is not at the bottom either.

After a 65-53 win over Barry on Wednesday, the Tritons' record improved to 16-5, 5-4 in the league. That's tied for third with Lynn, but it is far behind undefeated Rollins and 7-2 Florida Southern.

For the season's remaining six games, not including Saturday at Florida Tech, Eckerd will try to stay among the top three in the SSC to ensure a good seed for the league tournament, Feb. 28-March 3 in Lakeland.

One thing the Tritons can do is score. They lead the conference with an average of 77.5 points. Sharrod McCree is producing 15 per game.

Cerwin Thompson is tops in the SSC in rebounds (9.1 average.)

Big games loom -- Wednesday at home against Rollins and the season finale Feb. 22 at Tampa.

St. Petersburg College is making another run at a Suncoast Conference championship after an 81-59 thrashing of Hillsborough CC on Wednesday. The Titans (15-8, 6-2) vaulted into the league lead.

Terrance Taylor, Carl Jenkins, Cavin Cummings, Dominique Coleman and Kory Crumbley are playing well for the defending junior college state champions.

HONOR ROLL: Eckerd had 39 student-athletes on the Sunshine State Conference fall list. As many as 252 overall from eight league teams were recognized.

The Eckerd women's soccer program topped the chart with 14 players. Following for the school were men's soccer (12), women's cross country (7) and volleyball (6).

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