College Sports

Manatees look to return to Colorado

BRADENTON — The sign is propped along the right field fence, celebrating the many accolades the tradition-rich program has achieved.

One number, though, sticks out like a sore thumb.

The number is 2002, and it references the last year the State College of Florida baseball team won the state tournament and advanced to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.

“We look at it,” said pitcher Alex Burgos about the sign and the Juco World Series. “We just want to go over there, even more. Because we haven’t been there in awhile, and we really don’t put too much pressure on ourselves. If we just go out there and play our game, then we should be fine.”

The Manatees begin their quest for a return trip to Colorado, and the program’s 13th state title, at 1 p.m. today against St. John’s River Community College at Lakeland’s Joker Marchant Stadium.

SCF enters the match-up with a 33-12 record and a silky smooth left-handed ace in Burgos.

The sophomore has scintillating stuff with a four-seam and two-seam fastball, circle change, curve, slider and an occasional cutter.

In 78 1/3 innings pitched, Burgos has notched 87 strikeouts with his filthy, dominating arsenal against both conference and non-conference foes.

The Florida Southern-bound pitcher carries an 11-1 record, 1.61 ERA and 1.14 WHIP that has garnered plenty of attention from scouts at several starts he’s made this season.

Burgos said he’s used to the attention, and once the game starts, he’s just locked into catcher Austin Chubb’s glove.

“I guess he had a really good summer this past summer,” said outfielder Hunter Ovens, who is hitting .360 with an on base-plus-slugging percentage of .955. “I don’t know, this year it seems like he’s a lot more focused with what he’s doing.”

But the state tournament is a different beast than the regular season, as SCF will need to win five or six games in the span of five days.

That’s a heavy burden on any pitching staff, but the Manatees’ rotation is deep and features two left-handers in Burgos and Josh Renfro, with Josh Lucas (No. 2) rounding out a solid frontline.

SCF’s offense isn’t too shabby, either.

The Manatees are hitting at a .306 clip, and despite not having a lineup full of mashers like last season’s squad, they do possess a complement of speed and power from top-to-bottom.

That combination netted SCF a Suncoast Conference crown, one they earned with a 19-6 mark — two games clear of rival St. Petersburg College.

Winning the conference meant an automatic berth into the state tournament and zero competitive baseball games for two weeks between the last conference game and the first state tourney tilt.

That’s not an issue with these Manatees, as veteran head coach Tim Hill said he’s using the same program he’s always used, which means practicing under the hot, humid Florida afternoon sun.

It’s done to get the team acclimated to the weather they’ll see during the five-day tournament.

“Since we’re playing a 1 o’clock or 4 o’clock game, every practice we’ve had has been in the afternoon,” Hill said.

The state tournament has been at the Chain O’Lakes Stadium in Winter Haven the previous few seasons, where the Manatees had some hard-luck as the then Manatee Community College Lancers.

“I guess the year before that, the sprinklers came on them in a game, and last year the lights went out,” Ovens said.

SCF won’t have to worry about the lights when they hit the diamond in the tourney opener. It’s a day game at 1 p.m.