BRADENTON -- The State College of Florida baseball program hasn't missed the state tournament since 1995.
So the Manatees weren't leaving anything up to chance at the end of the year.
SCF strung together a five-game winning streak that included a victory over rival St. Petersburg College. The win came in the middle of the streak and earned SCF the runner-up spot in the Suncoast Conference, which meant an automatic berth into the state tourney.
"For the first time this year, they're having 10 teams in the (state) tournament," SCF head coach Tim Hill II said. "All the third place teams in the conferences (played) to see which two of those four would go. And we played well when we had to, to avoid that."
Last season, the Manatees marched their way to the state title game before their season ended at the hands of Palm Beach State's J.D. Underwood, who was the state's pitcher of the year.
SCF entered this season with a No. 1 national ranking.
There were ups and downs, but, SCF is rolling at the right time.
"The wins didn't come as easy this year," sophomore Sean Trent said. "We've got a little bit of momentum going, so that's good. We've got a lot of positive energy going. I'm definitely looking forward to it and I like what we have right now."
A key trigger to the Manatees' momentum-building run at the end of the year to cap a 31-18 regular season was a bit of nostalgia.
SCF donned throwback Manatee Community College Lancer uniforms for the pivotal contest against St. Pete.
It turned into a dominant performance as SCF reeled off an 8-0 victory.
"It's a tradition here, and it's our job to uphold this tradition," pitcher Ryan Valdes said, "and to be able to put on the tradition and to feel the tradition within ourselves. And that night was something special to be able to clinch second place."
Now the club turns its attention to Lakeland, site of the junior college state tourney.
The first opponent is Tallahassee Community
College at 4 p.m. Friday. It's a team the Manatees defeated three times during a road series in late February.
However, two of the games were close.
The secret ingredient in the SCF winning formula this season is its defense. When the Manatees struggle in the field, the results on the scoreboard are negative.
Conversely, when SCF makes the stops in the field, it usually comes out on top.
"I think the whole key is to be able to play some defense," Hill II said. "When our defense doesn't play very well, we usually struggle. Then when our defense plays pretty well and we play catch with each other, then we can be tough to beat."