The Northwest Florida State College Raiders (30-16-1), recent Panhandle Conference Champions, will host the Polk State Eagles (32-21) in their first-ever playoff homestand this Friday (May fifth, sixth, and seventh) at the ballpark on the college campus.
Friday’s game will start at 5 pm, Saturday’s first pitch will take place at 2 pm, and Sunday’s matchup, if needed, is scheduled for one pm. The games will feature a high-powered pitching staff and bats that heated up at the end of the year to deliver the conference championship to the Raiders.
Northwest Florida boasted a 15-9 conference record, which gave them a three-game lead on second-place team Pensacola State College. The bats and gloves of All-Panhandle Conference Players Scott Mudler and Blake Cavill will support the pitching staff through the next three games. All-conference second-team members Paul Winland, Tyler Lejeune, Kendrey Maduro and Cade Easterbrook will help to keep the runs coming in.
The Raiders will host a Polk State team fresh off a devastating conference finals loss to the State College of Florida Manatees 14-1.
Niceville’s college baseball team will host a postseason series for the first time ever, thanks to a format change made by the NJCAA last year, allowing conference winners to host the conference runner-up from another conference in Florida for the first series of regionals at home. Previously, the postseason took place in Lakeland. “We need to have our community support our players and our college – and hopefully bring a good atmosphere [to the ballfield],” said Northwest Florida State College Head Ball Coach Doug Martin.
The team has persevered through some rough waters this season to end up at the top of the heap in the Panhandle Conference. The squad had issues with close games – losing six of their first seven tight contests, and they’ve since won two in a row. That’s when your mental toughness gets challenged the most,” Martin said, “there are some signs of maturity.”
Kyson Witherspoon will get the ball for the first pitch of the playoff series on Friday night. Witherspoon (6-1) is a standout freshman from Jacksonville’s Fletcher High School. The 6’2 205 unit of a starter has allowed a 2.52 Earned Run Average and gets about 9.49 strikeouts per game.
The team’s bats are behind him. “You’re going to see a team that pulls together,” Coach Martin said, “They’re good teammates, and they’ve become a team [where] it doesn’t really matter which one of them [makes the key plays] because the others are going to pull hard for everybody else. So I think [fans] will see that. They are going to see a team that is not perfect, but will do their best to overcome any adversity that will be taking place, because Polk State is a really good team and we’re gonna have to play our best to have a chance to beat them.”
Polk State may have received a curb stomping from State College of Florida in their last game – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. The team boasts eight All-Suncoast Conference players. Two first-team pitchers, Evan Koehler and Reliever of the Year Ryan Combs, will see the mound in their tilt against the Raiders. Travis Stapleton (First Team – Catcher and Lipscomb University Commit), Nelson Taylor (Conference Defensive Player of the Year and Florida State Commit), and second team players Damion Kenealy, Roberto Odor, Kay Mercer, and Ray Bermudez will shore up the defense, and bat runners in for the Eagles.
The teams have not yet met this year. The series winners will advance to a super regional site with the three other teams who win their initial series. Tickets are $5.