SPJC teams make diamond history
By RODNEY PAGE
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001
The difference between the St. Petersburg Junior College softball team and the SPJC baseball team is about 20 miles.
The baseball team is the sole occupant of the Clearwater campus fieldhouse, playing games at the adjacent Joe DiMaggio complex.
The softball team is based at the St. Petersburg/Gibbs campus. The two teams rarely see each other play. They rarely run into each other on campus.
But their accomplishments this season are the same. Both teams clinched Suncoast Conference regular season championships, the first time that has happened in school history. Both teams will play in the Florida Junior College state tournament in Kissimmee.
The softball team begins play on May 2. The baseball team begins on May 9.
Both teams played in the state tournament last season. The softball team finished third in the state while the baseball team lost in the championship game. The SPJC baseball team was second in the Suncoast Conference last season.
The top two teams in the conference earn state tournament berths.
The SPJC softball team won its fifth straight conference title.
"This is always expected," sophomore outfielder Stephanie Lantz said. "It's like there's a standard we have to live up to."
The SPJC softball and baseball teams have made a habit recently of making the state tournament. The baseball team is making its third consecutive appearance, each year edging closer to a first-ever state championship.
"I think we have a good enough team to win it all," SPJC baseball coach Dave Pano said. "But when you get into a tournament like this you have to get some breaks."
The Trojans recently had a 14-game win streak snapped by Manatee Community College. SPJC was 35-8 through Thursday, one win short of the school record.
SPJC is ranked No. 1 in the state junior college poll and ranked fifth nationally by the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Players such as Erick Monzon, Mike Cox, Abraham Valencia and Juan Mendez have all hovered around .360 this season. Pitcher Paco Reyes is 11-1, tops in the state.
But Pano has another reason for the team's success. SPJC has a .978 fielding percentage.
"That blows away any other team in the state," Pano said. "If you can field like that you're tough to beat."
The SPJC softball team is tough to beat because it pounds the ball and pitches well. Amy Marlowe is one of the top pitchers in the state. Sophomore Mary Strickland is also a strong pitcher and first baseman.
Third baseman Holly Brooks and Lantz have been solid both at the plate and in the field. The Trojans put an exclamation mark on the regular season when they beat Hillsborough Community College 12-1 and 6-1 in a double-header Thursday to clinch the conference title.
SPJC, which wears tie-dyed shirts, had another motivation for winning the conference championship.
"We're going to get new tie-dyed shirts," Marlowe said.
"Yeah, and it's going to say Conference Champions," Lantz added.
GOLF TOURNEY: Eckerd College finished sixth of seven teams at the Sunshine State Conference tournament, held April 16 and 17 at Lake Jovita Country Club in Saint Leo. Kyle McCarthy was the Tritons top finisher, shooting 76-73-76-225 for a tie for ninth place.
Florida Southern won the team championship. Steve Sokol of Florida Southern was the medalist with a 218.
BASEBALL/SOFTBALL: Eckerd's baseball team was 4-11 in the conference, 20-25 overall through Wednesday. The softball team is having a tougher time. The Tritons are 0-19 in the conference, 11-31 overall.
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