By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – Steve DeMeo's birthday celebration Monday was clouded a bit by Saturday's loss at Chipola.
Sure, the NWF State men's basketball coach is at the helm of a program that recently shored up a fourth straight Panhandle Conference crown. Yet, after 25 straight wins to start the season and eight straight weeks atop the NJCAA national ranks, two losses in three games aren't sitting well with the New Yorker.
Bart Walker can empathize.
His NWF State women have lost two straight in their bid to shore up the No. 2 Panhandle Conference seed and with it a spot in the Region 8 tournament.
But Wednesday night's Panhandle season finale against Tallahassee can change everything for the women. Meanwhile the men can regain momentum.
Celebrating Sophomore Night, the women tip off at 5:30 p.m. and the men follow at 7:30 p.m. Boding well is that both programs are 2-0 against Tallahassee.
The third-ranked women (22-4, 7-4) defeated the 10th-ranked Eagles (19-5, 6-5) 64-56 at home and 62-56 on the road earlier this year. But the head-to-head record means little if the Raiders lose Wednesday night. In that case they would fall to 7-5 in Panhandle play and Tallahassee would improve to 6-5. The Eagles would then need a win against cellar dweller Pensacola State on Saturday to force a one-game playoff for a Region 8 playoff spot.
The women whiffed on their first two chances to shore up a playoff spot, losing 63-43 at home to Panhandle Conference champion Gulf Coast State on Valentine's Day before suffering a 58-49 setback on Saturday at Chipola, which they had beaten by two and 10 points earlier in the year.
Panhandle Conference DH Finale
Tallahassee at NWF State, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. tonight
Being honored Wednesday night are sophomores Jade Lewis, Ann Jernigan, Ashley Lee and Lisajo Wygal.
The second-ranked NWF State men (26-2) haven't really been challenged this year by Tallahassee (17-9, 4-6), which they beat 114-101 at The Arena and 79-71 on the road earlier this season.
The sophomores being honored are Andres Feliz, Karim Ezzeddine, Tray Boyd III and Kelvin Robinson.
Feliz remains the frontrunner for Panhandle Conference Player of the Year with per-game averages of 20.4 points (59.1 percent shooting), 5.2 rebounds, five assists and 2.4 steals. Ezzedine is the only other two-year Raider on the roster, the forward averaging 7.9 points and 3.1 rebounds. Boyd III is posting 13.8 points and three treys a night, while Robinson is averaging 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, three assists and two steals.