Region 8 underdogs: NWF State baseball enters state tourney as 8 seed

Region 8 underdogs: NWF State baseball enters state tourney as 8 seed

By JOSH HYBER

Was Doug Martin trying some sort of reverse psychology?

Some sort of expect the worst, hope for the best mentality?

"If you look at everything, we don't really do anything great," the NWF State manager said. "We don't hit great, we don't pitch great, we don't field great and we don't run the bases great. But we've just found a way to win enough games."

Enough wins earned NWF State (32-15, 14-10) the No. 8 seed in the Region 8 double-elimination tournament, which for the Raiders starts Friday at 2 p.m. against No. 9 seed Eastern Florida State College (31-17, 15-13).

"We're certainly not going in as any sort of favorite to win it," Martin said. "If you look at the numbers of the teams in the tournament, in terms of batting, we're probably going to be down the list a good ways. But that's happened before."

Here are those numbers: NWF State's highest individual batting average, Jake Corso's .373 clip, ranks 28th in the state. No other Raiders ranks in the top 50. The team's highest individual RBI total, Ross Goforth's 22, doesn't crack the top 50.

Fielding-wise, Raiders outfielder Joe Guidry is the team's highest-ranked defender with a .988 fielding percentage. But the Fort Walton Beach product is ranked just 41st in the state. Catcher Cole Halfacre's .987 clip puts him at 45.

On the bases, the Raiders have 41 stoles bases but have been caught 17 times.

If the team wants to win six times in six days and advance, Martin said, it'll be on the shoulders of its pitching staff.

First-team all-conference selection JJ Montgomery will get the nod for game one against the Titans. The righty has been the Raiders most consistent starter this season, compiling a 7-2 record with 72 strikeouts and a 1.82 ERA.

Fellow sophomore Eric Orze will start game two.

If NWF State wins the opener, it will play Saturday at noon against No. 3-seed Santa Fe College. If the Raiders drop their opener, they'll play the loser of Friday night's matchup between No. 2-seed Polk State and No. 4-seed Palm Beach State.

After Montgomery and Orze, it'll be all hands on deck.

Expect southpaw Cam Sanders (5-3, 2.88 ERA in 14 appearances), right-hander John Barr (who has a team-high 17 relief appearances) and Brayson Smith (5-3 with a 3.62 ERA in 14 appearances) to see the mound as well.

"The thing that sort of concerns me, in terms of production, is our depth of pitching," Martin said. "They've all thrown well at one point or another during the year, but they've never really put it together at the same time. If we're going to stay in this tournament for any length of time, that's what we need."

If the pitching shows up, the bats may only have to continue doing what they've been doing for the past two weeks.

Since losing five straight, the Raiders have won four of five — including a 7-2 win over No. 1 nationally-ranked Chipola — while averaging 6.4 runs a game.

Ten Raiders had RBIs during the stretch, including Goforth with eight and Corso with six. Halfacre, Guidry and Landon Crowder had three.

So what's been the key to the streak?

"Just winning," Martin said. "Just finding a way to win. Nothing's standing out. We get just a bare minimum of hits and a bare minimum of runs and we keep the other team from scoring one more than we do."

"If that holds true, we might be able to sneak out some wins out there."

Survive and advance.

But as the No. 8 seed in a 10-team tournament, Martin is realistic.

"We're really proud of this team and their accomplishments to qualify and get down here," Martin said. "Finishing second in our league is certainly a good accomplishment, with the quality of our league. We're excited for that and we're excited to see what we can do."