MANATEE -- If getting thrown to the top of the rotation after the program's ace suffered a season-ending injury just last week wasn't enough, former Manatee High standout Taylor O'Quinn was called into double duty for the State College of Florida softball team in Tuesday's Suncoast Conference opener.
The freshman obliged the home faithful with 15 combined strikeouts in two games that lifted SCF (27-9 overall, 2-0 conference) to a sweep, 4-0 and 7-4, over St. Petersburg College.
After she baffled St. Petersburg's bats with eight strikeouts in a shutout, O'Quinn was given the ball in the third inning of SCF's second game in an effort to limit the damage.
At that point, the Titans had the bases loaded and nobody out, but were trailing 2-1.
O'Quinn fanned two before giving up a double. But St. Pete could only score twice in the inning, and O'Quinn quickly settled in.
"I was trying not to put any pressure on myself," O'Quinn said, "and go out there and just throw it. Because when I throw it, it's
just a lot easier instead of running a million things through my head."
It's part of a change for O'Quinn from the fall season, when SCF head coach Meredith Headings said she worked on her velocity and on some pitches.
The complete repertoire was displayed against St. Petersburg as O'Quinn used the entire strike zone to shut down the Titans in both games.
O'Quinn only allowed three hits in the first game, then tossed five relief innings where she allowed just one run in a 7-4 Manatees' triumph.
"Being a local product from Manatee High, it's exciting for me to see her step up and shut people down," Headings said. "... I am so thrilled to see the improvement (from the fall). She's a night-and-day different pitcher from what she was in high school."
While O'Quinn turned into the rock that the Manatees needed from the pitcher's circle, the offense bided its time before exploding off a couple St. Pete miscues.
SCF scored four times in the fifth inning to rally from a two-run deficit and take a 7-4 lead that it would ride out to the finish line.
And it almost didn't happen.
With two outs and two runners on, catcher Kat Penn hit a soft liner to Titans shortstop Giselle Delgado.
Delgado fielded the ball on a short hop and pulled first baseman Talia Barraco off the bag in a close play that allowed the tying runs to cross the plate and extend the Manatees inning.
"This team just has that scrappy, never give up (attitude)," Headings said.
The club responded to the good fortune with back-to-back hits from Laura Gavern and Jaclyn Cokeroft to cap the scoring and give O'Quinn all the cushion she would need.
Between the two games, the Manatees were paced on offense from a three hitters. They were Cindy Micochero (4-for-5, two walks, two runs, RBI), Kayla Bjorge (2-for-6, double, RBI, stolen base, two runs) and Gavern (2-for-2, two RBIs, run).