By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE — To see Vikings alumna Mercedez Claybrone at Fort Walton Beach High Thursday night wasn't a surprise.
Her alma mater was in the Region 1-7A quarterfinals, and the NWF State sophomore forward had no college game that night and an easy drive.
It was a perfect opportunity to revisit her routes, and also a chance to bring teammates Britney Snowden, Berniezha Tidwell and Amber Thompson along for a little perspective. And potentially a little motivation.
You see, the Raiders haven't won since Jan. 11, a 71-67 victory over Pensacola State. Since then they've lost seven straight and are last in the Panhandle Conference at 1-7, a record that could easily be 3-5 or 4-4 if a couple of breaks had gone NWF State's way.
They didn't, and the result is a scenario where the Raiders have been eliminated from one of the conference's two automatic qualifying spots for the Region 8 tournament and a top-three finish in the Panhandle. Reigning national champion Gulf Coast State currently leads the league with a 7-2 record, while Chipola and Tallahassee are both 6-3.
The Raiders can at least leapfrog fourth-place Pensacola State (2-7), which enters The Arena Wednesday night for 5:30 tip. The teams split the first two meetings, the Pirates answering the four-point loss at The Arena with an 83-75 overtime win on Jan. 28 at home.
To the credit of NWF State head coach Tamela McCorvey, she's pulled out all the stops to end the seven-game skid. Ten different players have started at least one of the eight league games, the Raiders making frequent adjustments in search of the winning formula.
So far there's been no answer, the Raiders getting outscored 78.8-65 during the eight-game league slate. Embodying the offensive woes is the Raiders' 36.5 shooting percentage and 25.7-percent clip from beyond the arc. Jade Lewis leads the team with 11.5 points per game in conference action, although it's come on 33.7 percent shooting from the floor. She has drained 2.5 3s a game on a respectable 36.4-percent clip.
Berniezha Tidwell follows with 10.0 points per game on 39.1 percent shooting, while Britney Snowden leads the team with 7.9 rebounds a night to pair with 9.8 points per game. "Fruit" Oliver, NWF State's 6-foot-3 inside presence, is averaging 8.5 points on 53.1 percent shooting and 4.9 rebounds.
The Raiders are coming off a 61-43 loss at Chipola, by far their lowest scoring output of the season, but in a promising sign scored 72 or more points in four hard-fought losses before that.