The Pasco-Hernando State College baseball team didn’t have a great start to the 2014 season.
It was a slow beginning in February by going 1-6. By the middle of March, the Conquistadors sat at 8-11 with no momentum and the season slipping away.
So when longtime head coach Steve Winterling made vacation plans for the end of May, he assumed there would be nothing on his schedule.
“I didn’t have the World Series marked on my calendar book. I haven’t been there in 23 years, so why would I have it on there,” he said.
Big mistake, coach.
The team went on a 10-game winning streak and eventually qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II district tournament. The Conquistadors qualify for the tournament on a regular basis, but this time they did something they had never done before: They were the last team standing and qualified for the first World Series berth in school history.
Winterling was happy to cancel his vacation plans and lead his team to Enid, Oklahoma for the Division II World Series last month. PHSC came to play in that tournament as well, winning a couple of games before being eliminated by regular World Series participant Madison College. The Conquistadors finished their run in fourth place and with a feeling that their success was a total team effort.
“We just had some clutch players. Like I told the guys afterward, as hard as it was losing, everybody at one point in the season did something to help us win,” Winterling said. “We had some guys who would get that key hit. We didn’t have one guy that really carried us.”
Sophomore Brennan Allen is one of the players who earned a key hit when the team needed it. In the district tournament, Allen hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to erase a 4-2 deficit and tie the game against Wake Technical Community College. PHSC would go on to win. But after that play, they never doubted the outcome.
“At that point, everyone thought this was our game no matter what,” Allen said. “We had all the momentum.”
Allen batted .311 during the season (.378 with men in scoring position) and said the team always had talent, but needed to get past early-season struggles and play up to their potential. As he considers options for playing baseball farther into his college career, having a World Series appearance on his resume should help attract attention from potential schools, he said.
The trip to Oklahoma should help PHSC as well. Winterling said athletes who want to be part of the program already are contacting him, making his recruiting job a lot easier.
“People want to come to a program that’s been to the World Series or won a regional tournament because that’s what everybody plays for,” he said. “E-mail and phone calls have been pretty heavy.”
The tournament run concludes a year of firsts for the baseball program and the school. In addition to their first World Series berth, the team registered their first no-hitter when Danny Rodriguez, a Steinbrenner High School graduate, threw one back in March.
And when the school raises a banner for the team’s achievements, it will be the first at the school to read “Pasco-Hernando State College.” The school changed its name from Pasco-Hernando Community College in January.
Winterling, who was also named the school’s athletic director last year, isn’t the type of coach to take much credit for himself or dwell on previous successes. He’s proud of his players and what they accomplished, but he’s already back to work, with a showcase coming up and some players to sign.
For his part, Allen said he recognizes the district title and World Series run as something he and the other players won’t soon forget.
“Going from such a small school, not being known by many people and now putting them on the map, and finishing fourth in the nation, is going to a pretty awesome thing to look back on for the rest of our lives, really,” he said. “It was a great experience. It was a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t change anything.”
Published June 11, 2014
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