AVON PARK - St. Petersburg College scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning to pull away from South Florida State College Friday night, as the Titans defeated the Panthers by a score of 8-4 in a critical Suncoast Conference game.
"We played from behind again, which is our M.O., unfortunately," Panthers coach Rick Hitt said. "We were on a solid win streak last week, and now we've lost a handful. It's one of those things where you have to remind yourself of what you did to try and win everyday."
From the outset, the game appeared to be a slugfest.
SPC (19-10, 5-5) scored a run in the top of the first, but SFSC (10-21, 2-8) countered with two more in the bottom of the inning. Through the next six innings, though, the Panthers bats fell silent.
The Titans tallied another run in the top of the second before adding two more in the third thanks to a two-run blast from Joey Koehler.
On the mound, Panthers hurler Juan Terron was starting to settle in, but he was getting little support from his offense. The Panthers hitters were flummoxed, and rarely put ball into play between the third and fifth innings.
SFSC grew more frustrated after thanks to a potential fifth inning rally that was snuffed after the Panthers loaded the basese. The situation repeated itself in the sixth.
With SPC bringing in a new pitcher, Taylor Layner, Tyler Bender, and Richard Trotter reached on consecutive walks to load the bases. But Damian Lovett recovered to strike out Chris Kazen and Damian Boyum. SFSC's Isaiah Dean popped up to right field to end the inning.
"We have a tendency to mount some drives, but we're about one hitter away from busting an inning open," Hitt said. "We battle a lot, not very intelligently sometimes, but we have our chances to win."
With Terron keeping the Titans hitters at bay, SFSC finally mounted a comeback in the bottom of the eight inning.
Layner led off with a walk, followed by a single from Bender. Harrison McClure brought both runners home with a booming ground-rule double. With men on first and third, Rodney Forbes tried to lay down a bunt for the suicide squeeze. The ball died in the infield, though, and the Titans survived the inning without giving up the lead.
Leading by one run, SPC scored three runs in the top of the ninth to pad its lead. The Panthers walked in the first run before Jacob Lopez made it 8-4 with a two-run single.
Despite their early pitfalls in, SFSC was on the cusp of tying the game in the bottom of the ninth. Austin Bingham reached on a single and Josh Townsend followed him after being hit by a pitch. But Bender's ground out and a called strike three on Trotter shut the door on the Panthers' comeback attempt.
Despite the string of tough losses, the Panthers have lost 16 games by a total of 19 runs, Hitt is confident his team can find ways to win.
"We're still right in the conference race," Hitt said. "Our conference is a dogfight, and there's still a lot of games left. It's a marathon. But it just takes a couple of games in a row where you see some consistency and you build upon that."
The Panthers start a three-game series with the State College of Florida on Monday. The first game will be played at Panther Field at 6 p.m.