By JOSH HYBER
If putting up a five-spot in the first inning of its Region 8 tournament opener was a message that said, "We're ready for postseason play," the message Northwest Florida State softball sent after its first game of day two was, "We're not ready to go home."
Facing elimination on Saturday morning, the Raiders routed Palm Beach State 9-1 at Dodgertown in Vero Beach.
In another elimination game that immediately followed, the Raiders beat State College of Florida 3-2 on a walk-off hit from Tyra Bowers.
Again, not ready to go home. Not ready for the season to end.
"It was amazing," Raiders' manager Jack Byerley said about his team's never say die mentality when its back was against the wall.
However, NWF State fell to the College of Central Florida in the night cap, ending its season at 46-14. The Raiders, despite leading 5-1 after three and a half innings, lost 9-8 in eight innings.
"Even in the loss, we had a very successful day," Byerley said. "This tournament was a great experience for our team. You hate the way it ended, but you know what? Our team had a great year.
"These are going to be young ladies that move on and do a fantastic job in whatever they do."
It was a heartbreaking end to an otherwise celebratory day.
Raiders' shortstop Tori Robinson — who this weekend was named a NJCAA/FCSAA first-team all-state selection — hit two home runs and finished with six RBI in the opener. The sophomore's grand slam in the sixth ended it.
"Tori was very focused," Byerley said. "She wanted it just as bad as anything she's ever wanted in the world, I think. She's had some good success while she's been here and she sure didn't want it to end this way."
Byerley spoke highly of the sophomore trio.
On Johnson, "That poor young lady, we've thrown her at first base, second base, we put her all over the daggum field and she played well. She did what she had to do."
On Pereira, "She appreciates everything she has. Coming from Brazil, she just feels so honored to be here. She projects that. She takes nothing for granted."
On Lizardi, Byerley joked, "She's grown up tremendously. She's still a little snooty sometimes, but she has grown up tremendously."
Robinson got things started right away in the opener with a two-RBI triple to score Bowers. Johnson followed with a sacrifice fly to score Robinson. She then extended the lead to 5-0 on a solo home run to lead off the third inning.
Three innings later she ended it with a grand slam.
In the second game of the afternoon, the Raiders came from behind to beat the State College of Florida 3-2.
The Manatees scored twice in the first inning on a hit-by-pitch and walk scored two runners after the bases were loaded.
But Robinson, Johnson and Pereira wouldn't let their team go down.
With Robinson on third and Johnson on second, Pereira sent a deep sacrifice fly to left-centerfield. The ball was hit deep enough and the outfielder drifted so far on the play that both runners were able to come around to tie the score.
But the magic didn't last in the third game of the day.
Tied 8-8 in extra innings, the College of Central Florida led off with a single and a sacrifice bunt to put a runner on second. A mishandled bunt then put runners on the corners with one out. They then won on a walk-off single.
Summed up Byerley, "It was a great season. I'm so proud of this team."