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SPC takes nothing for granted
Defending champ expects tough state competition and hopes its hitting and defense get back on track.
By RODNEY PAGE
Published May 4, 2006
If there ever was a good sign for St. Petersburg College as it enters the Florida Community College state baseball tournament on Friday, it's this: Coach Dave Pano has no idea what to expect.
Last season, Pano didn't have a handle on his club, and the Titans won their first state championship and finished second in the national tournament. This season, with a new infield and outfield, Pano is unsure about his team.
"I know we can pitch," Pano said. "But I'm not sure about the hitting and defense. The defense is something I'm worried about. We haven't been very good defensively lately."
But overall this season, the Titans (32-15) have been good enough. They finished atop the Suncoast Conference with an 18-7 record. Pano has been at SPC nine years, and the Titans have advanced to the state tournament every year. The first- and second-place teams in the conference get a state tournament berth. So Pano expects his team to have a target on its back when it opens play Friday against Chipola CC.
"Other programs measure themselves by how they do against St. Pete," Pano said. "We've been an elite team in the state and everyone wants to beat us. We've dealt with that all year. Some nonconference teams have beaten us this year and they celebrated like it was the seventh game of the World Series."
To avoid opponents' celebrations, the Titans must continue their good pitching. Former Dunedin standout Mike Barbara was the conference Pitcher of the Year after an 11-2 regular season and 1.62 ERA. He'll likely start the second game and will be used in relief. Kyle Ginley will start the opener. Ginley was 5-3 with 71 strikeouts in 71 innings. Pedro Beato (5-3, 2.81 ERA) is the third starter. "(The pitchers) carried them and that's just the way this team is this year," Barbara said. "The pitchers have to do their part and the other stuff will come around."
The offense must keep up with the pitching if SPC is to defend its championship. Catcher Luis Exposito (.350 with five home runs), second baseman Jonathan Santos (.351, nine doubles) and designated hitter Chris Garcia (.407, 22 doubles, 44 RBI) were named to the conference's first team. They need to continue to hit for the Titans to have a chance.
"I like our pitching as much as anybody's in the state," Pano said. "And really, offensively the numbers are about the same as last year except last year we had more home runs. Everything else is pretty close."
One thing different about last season is SPC didn't have to play in the second-place game to get into the tournament. That meant its season ended a week earlier, resulting in a three-week layoff. "You have to pick your level up about five notches," Pano said. "You can't just play like we did in the conference and expect to win. That's what we're trying to stress.
"Don't think that the way you're playing now you're going to win it. You have to go to another level."