MANATEE -- State College of Florida needed a performance like this. Two days removed from its worst loss of the season, a 14-run drubbing at the hands of Polk State College that left the Manatees with their fourth loss in five games, the SCF baseball team returned to Wynn Field for a statement win against South Florida State College.
The Manatees uncorked 18 hits, including six during a five-run fifth inning, to blow out the Panthers 10-1 and get back in the win column.
"This was a big game," pitcher Frank Grandinette said. "We were really trying to get after it here and we did that tonight, making a statement in our conference that we're not out."
SCF's reccent struggles were a rare dark stretch for one of the nation's top programs. Monday's win brings the Manatees' record to 22-8. Half of those losses came during the past two weeks.
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Saturday's 17-3 loss to Polk State was without a doubt the low point for SCF this season.
The two losses the Manatees suffered during a doubleheader March 7 were excusable -- they came against Chipola College, the No. 4 team in Florida, by a total of three runs. But a 14-run loss to the Eagles in Winter Haven? That was a wake-up call for a team ranked No. 8 in the entire country March 4.
"It humbled us," Grandinette said." We were a little confident and arrogant walking into Polk and we got punched in the gut a little bit, so now we're stepping it up."
Despite three hits in the first inning and two more in the second, SCF actually trailed, 1-0, entering the bottom of the third after an error by shortstop Mitch Piatnik.
Grandinette, however, was confident that his teammates bats would eventually pick him up and he twirled a gem. Nine innings, 10 strikeouts, three hits and only one unearned run. For Grandinette it was the culmination of what has already been a strong season and brought the Manatees to 2-2 in Suncoast Conference play.
"He's been good for us all year, but this was one of his better outings," head coach Tim Hill II said. "He's been good every time he's gone out there, he gives us a chance to win and I thought he showed a lot of competitiveness. If guys pitch like that we're gonna be alright."
By the bottom of the third inning Grandinette was done allowing hits and SCF was ready to reward him. The Manatees pushed one run across the plate with an RBI single by second baseman Brantley Bell in the third and scored another on a single by Piatnik in the fourth.
In the fifth, SCF busted the game open. The first three Manatee batters all singled and with the help of two runners SCF stretched its lead to 4-1 before SFSC went to its bullpen.
Over the next three innings, the Panthers used three pitchers, committed three errors and surrendered five more runs.
"We struggled in the first three innings, I think," said designated hitter Junior Fermin, who went 3-for-3 with a walk, "but we came back and we supported Frank, and gave him the win."
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth inning and the Manatees nursing a nine-run lead, one more RBI from Piatnik could have ended the game. Instead, he popped out to second. Grandinette would have to return to the mound.
He only got better. The righty struck out four batters in the final three frames to cap a dominant complete game and one of SCF's most important wins of the season.
"It was a very disappointing weekend, but it's a long conference season," Hill said. "We tried to get these guys ready to play tonight and they did a great job and they did a good job."