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At SPC, relief all around

After Katrina's stress, the Titans were just what a closer needed, and vice versa.

By JOE SMITH
Published May 3, 2007


Dave Pano may have the Bucs partly to thank for his latest midseason recruiting coup.

Former New Orleans Jesuit pitcher Tommy Meagher was in town in November with his father, Tommy III, to catch the Saints-Bucs matchup at Raymond James Stadium.

Pano was in the market for a closer. Meagher had just been rebuffed by LSU coaches in a recent open tryout.

Through mutual friends Pano set up a brief bullpen session for Meagher at Clearwater's Carpenter Complex.

Forty pitches in, Pano realized he had found his Bayou bargain.

Meagher paid his own way this semester, and it has paid off for the Titans, who open Florida Community College Association State Tournament play Friday in Winter Haven.

Meagher 5-0 is ranked among the state leaders in saves (nine), striking out 47 in 41 innings while serving as a steady, strike-hurling machine that sophomore Chris Garcia calls "a Greg Maddux-type pitcher."

The 6-foot-1 right-hander, displaced during Hurricane Katrina, will likely pitch in front of his parents this weekend. His father is a New Orleans firefighter Meagher thought he lost in the storm's aftermath.

"I got really lucky, " Meagher said of landing at SPC. "I'm just happy to be here."

---

One phone call in early September 2005 will forever be etched in Meagher's memory.

"Hey Tommy, " his aunt, Terry said. "It's your dad."

The 18-year-old had fled his hometown of Slidell, La., just days before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the region in August 2005.

His family's two-story home was flooded in 6 feet of water, debris blanketed his street and a sailboat floated in his neighbor's front yard.

Meagher, staying with his aunt in Baton Rouge during the storm's aftermath, tried unsuccessfully for eight days to contact his father, who had stayed behind for search and rescue missions in New Orleans.

Phone service was out. All Meagher's family could do was pore over news reports, hoping Tommy III wasn't near the looting, shooting and fires.

Turns out, he was right in the thick of it.

Meagher's father and his unit made more than 1, 100 rescues, maneuvering through the devastated city in boats; they grabbed people from water, pulled them from rooftops, freed them from attics.

The elder Meagher said he was shot at three times in the first eight days, mostly by looters. His unit, armed with assault rifles and shotguns, also received fire from those "who wanted to get our attention, to get rescued."

"Of course, " Meagher said with a chuckle. "That didn't work."

Finally, the phones did. Four-hundred firefighters shared three cell phones, taking turns telling their families, "I'm okay."

Tommy III, his thick New Orleans accent a scratchy whisper, broke down when talking to Tommy's twin sister, Jena.

Said Tommy: "It was just great to hear my dad's voice."

---

The two-week period put things in perspective for Meagher.

The star pitcher rigorously rehabbed a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder his senior year of high school.

When he returned to Jesuit for second semester - and baseball season - Meagher became the closer. He took the assignment in stride, using his finesse style of pitching to own the late innings.

Meagher, whose fastball reaches 85-87 mph, drew scholarship offers from New Orleans, Richmond and Loyola.

But he loved LSU and wanted to try to walk on for the Tigers. The audition, however, was a 25-pitch, abbreviated bullpen session.

Tigers coaches said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

It took less than 40 throws in November, however, for Pano to make up his mind; he had hit the midseason lottery.

"He's going to be one of the most heavily recruited guys out here next year, " Pano said.

"He's a good kid, good student, good baseball guy. You don't think LSU will want him? There's no doubt."

Fast Facts:

 

Florida Community College Athletic Association state tournaments

Baseball

When: Friday through Tuesday (championship).

Where: Chain of Lakes Baseball Stadium, Winter Haven. St. Petersburg College plays Friday at 4 vs. Central Florida CC.

Skinny: SPC, the 2005 state champions, are coming off fifth Suncoast Conference title in seven years.

Softball

When: Friday through Sunday.

Where: Auburndale Softball Complex. St. Petersburg College (43-16) plays Friday at noon vs. Tallahassee (32-16).

Skinny: SPC, runnerup in the Suncoast Conference, is led by speedy centerfielder Rachael Harrison. The first-team All-State selection had 67 steals in 68 attempts. Sophomore Nicki Gray was second-team All-State.

Florida Community College Athletic Association State Tournaments

Baseball

When: Friday through Tuesday (championship).

Where: Chain of Lakes Baseball Stadium in Winter Haven

St. Petersburg College plays Friday at 4 p.m. vs Central Florida

Skinny: SPC, the 2005 state champions, are coming off fifth Suncoast Conference title in seven years.

 

Softball

When: Friday through Sunday

Where: Auburndale Softball Complex

St. Petersburg College (43-16) plays Tallahassee (32-16), Noon.

Skinny: SPC, runner-up in the Suncoast Conference, is led by speedy centerfielder Rachael Harrison. Harrison a first-team All-State selection, successfully stole on 67 of 68 attempts. Sophomore Nicki Gray earned second-team All State honors.