By SAM GRUBENHOFF
NICEVILLE — Grant Stewart toed the rubber.
Into the batter's box, 60-feet-6 inches away, stepped Motlow State's Troy Weatherly with two strikes and one out in the top of the fifth. He had been a Raider killer all day, launching two home runs in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader against Northwest Florida State.
Stewart, a left-handed sophomore transfer by way of Florida State, was protecting the Raiders' first lead of the game. His wind up was good, his release well timed.
Weatherly's bat slashed at empty air and kept going, as the Bucks' first baseman completed a full 360-degree turn at home plate. He smashed his bat in the dirt in frustration.
Motlow State might have taken the first game of the afternoon 5-4, but Stewart would not allow NWF State to lose a second, and the Raiders went on to win series rubber match 10-4.
"I was real pleased with the way the guys bounced back in Game 2 with the series on the line, 1-1," Raider coach Doug Martin said. "It could have gone either way, and it didn't start off real good."
Right-hander Conor Angel began the rubber game on the mound for NWF State (10-3 overall), but freshman Paul McIntosh promptly took him deep with solo shot over the left-centerfield wall. The Bucks (4-6) put up all four of their runs before Angel gave way to Stewart and the bullpen after 1 2/3 innings.
Down 4-0, Stewart never lacked for confidence.
"After probably the first batter I was feelin' really good," Stewart said. "I knew I had my good stuff. Plus, after I saw the way our defense was playing this whole year, who wouldn't come in and feel really comfortable about a ball being put in play when you know that play being made behind you."
Stewart went 4 1/3 innings and allowed just one hit with two walks and five strikeouts. With two on and no outs in the fourth, he got infielder Patrick Music to ground into a 4-6-3 double play and escaped the jam completely unscathed one batter later.
"He's been good for us all year," Martin said. "He's a real competitive kid, and it's important for him to do well. We just gotta get some other guys going with him, though."
With Stewart dominating on the mound, the Raider bats found the courage to awaken after generating only four runs in the first game of the afternoon. NWF State mustered three runs in the bottom of the second to cut the deficit to 4-3.
In the bottom of the fourth, the bats appeared again. Infielder Kaden Polcovich led of by taking a pitch on the leg before limping down to first base, which brought Miguel Cienfuegos to the plate. Batting .441 on the season, Cienguegos' first swing was early; the ball sailed into the parking lot.
His second was not.
Cienfuegos laced an easy triple into the right-center gap, scoring Polcovich from first to tie the game.
"He's been giving us some big at-bats," Martin said. "He started the year off down in the lineup, and he's been one of our more consistent guys, giving us quality at-bats."
Right behind Cienfuegos, outfielder Jake Randa ripped a sacrifice fly to left-center for what would be the game-winning RBI.
Up next, the Raiders host a doubleheader against Thomas University starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday. After a weekend of ups and downs, Martin said he expects his team to move forward confidently after finishing out the series on a high note.
"It's always good to respond, and we certainly did," Martin said. "That was a good sign because really most of our wins, we've been ahead and hadn't really had any come-from-behind wins.
"Come-from-behind wins can build some character, and you can lean on those later on in the year cause we'll be behind again at some point."