By SETH STRINGER
LAKELAND – So much for the hype. So much for the College of Central Florida being the team to beat in the FCSAA state tournament.
Bolstered by homers from Kaden Polcovich, Justice Thompson and Brandon Riera and a combined gem from Jacob Kelchner and Calvin Starnes, second-seeded NWF State improved to 2-0 at Joker Marchant Stadium with Saturday's 9-2 win over the top-seeded Patriots. The Patriors, who entered the night 44-7 and ranked second nationally and tops in the Sunshine State, were eliminated Sunday after coughing up an 11-run lead in a 12-11 loss to Miami Dade.
Saturday night the Patriots had no answer for NWF State's bats, which logged 12 base knocks and drew five free passes in scoring five runs in the third. From there the Raiders never looked back.
Riera, who scored a pair of runs and walked once, began the top of the third with a four-bagger over the wall in left-center. Randa later scored Polcovich on an RBI single through the left side and Justice Thompson belted a three-run homer, his second blast of the state tournament, to cap the five-run third.
Madej added an RBI single to center in the fourth and Will Moriarty scored on a wild pitch in the fifth to stretch the lead to 7-0. After the Patriots answered with two runs in the fifth, Polcovich added some insurance in the ninth with a solo dinger to right and Kyle Fitzgerald, who also walked twice, capped the scoring with an RBI single through the right side.
Kelchner, the Panhandle Conference Pitcher of the Year, didn't have his best stuff, but he battled.
Improving to 10-0 on the year, he worked around six walks, four hits and no strikeouts to allow just two runs over six frames. Starnes struck out six and allowed just one hit in relief for the save.
The Raiders advanced to play Panhandle rival Chipola late Sunday night for an 8:30 p.m. start (past the Daily News' deadline).