College Sports

Juco softball | State College of Florida splits conference-opening doubleheader with Polk State

MANATEE -- The first taste of Suncoast Conference play in Mandy Schuerman's first season as the head coach of the State College of Florida softball team was, in many ways, a microcosm of the team's season to this point.

The same issues that have plagued the Manatees during their roller-coaster start to 2015 reared their head again Thursday at the SCF Softball Complex. In the first game of a doubleheader, State College of Florida's bats were slow to start and unable to adjust until it was too late during a seven-inning, 1-0 loss to Polk State College.

By the nightcap, though, everything came together -- hitting, pitching and defense -- and the Manatees took down the Eagles, 4-2, in seven innings.

"Sometimes it takes us a little while to make those needed adjustments," Schuerman said. "We're kind of streaky, is the best way that I can put it. Consistency is a key for us, offensively and defensively, being able to put all facets of the game together."

At times, Schuerman's first season has gone just the way she had hoped it would. SCF started 7-3, including a four-game winning streak. The Manatees followed that with five losses in six games, and then righted the ship again to settle at a 14-11 record and 1-1 start in the conference.

The first game Thursday was everything that has made Scheurman's first season in Bradenton so frustrating.

SFC managed only three hits against Polk State pitcher Taylor West, even though the Manatees knew just how to beat her. She found a home on the outside edge of the plate; State College of Florida just couldn't catch up.

"That first game, I don't know what it is, but we always seem to do better in that second game," infielder Brittany Gilliam said. "We start making adjustments late."

The Manatees didn't wait long during the second game to capitalize on their late-arriving energy offensively. With no outs, outfielder Savannah Money stole second base and moved to third on a groundout. A sacrifice fly to right by outfielder Shea Fisher (Lakewood Ranch) sent Money home for the first run of the second game.

With two outs, the Manatees pieced together another score. Jenn Trotter (Lakewood Ranch) started the next rally with a single and a double by Erica Ward gave SCF a two-run cushion.

"It was a good job to bounce back, for sure," Scheurmann said.

The Eagles answered with a pair of runs off freshman pitcher Jill McElderry in the second, including the game-tying tally on a double steal.

But, again, SCF's youngsters answered. Gilliam, another freshman, crushed a double to the right-field warning track to lead off the bottom of the fourth and came around to score on a sacrifice bunt and mishandled ground ball.

Polk State's final major threat came half an inning later, when the Eagles loaded the bases with one out. Somehow, McElderry danced out of the jam, striking out the final two batters to escape the inning unscathed.

"I just knew if I hit my corners either my pitches would work or my defense would help me out," McElderry said.

"It's a big maturity sign," Scheurmann said. "That's a good sign for us for things to come for her as a freshman."

With a .500 finish, Scheurmann didn't feel the day was a success, but the finale provided an example of what the Manatees can be this season.

Another point of frustration for Scheurmann is how well her team plays in practice as opposed to the games. Sometimes that seeps out into game action. The final seven innings on Thursday were one of those times. Now SCF just has to duplicate it.

"High intensity, everything's working," Gilliam said. "We just have to learn to put it all in one game."