By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE — NWF State's first two league games exposed the parity in Panhandle Conference women's basketball.
NWF State trailed by four points inside a minute to play at 10th-ranked Pensacola State. Against third-ranked Gulf Coast State at The Arena four days later, the fourth-ranked Raiders led by two with 4 seconds left on the clock.
They won the road opener in overtime. They lost the home opener on a pair of offensive rebounds.
The lesson? Buckle up, this 12-game conference slate is going to be filled with down-to-the-wire tilts.
NWF State (16-1, 1-1) could argue it should very well be 2-0 after garnering an initial miss with 4 seconds left to play and leading Gulf Coast State 48-46. Instead, two offensive rebounds given up and then a turnover resulted in four Gulf Coast State free throws for the heartbreaking loss.
But the Raiders can't afford to dwell on the season's lone setback. Not with Saturday's trip to Chipola looming on the horizon.
Chipola (11-5, 0-1) enters the 5:30 p.m. tipoff ranked 20th in the nation but on a two-game skid, including a 93-72 loss at Tallahassee to open Panhandle Conference play.
On paper, the Indians don't look like the juggernaut of past years.
They're outscoring foes by a slim 77.2-72 margin on the season and shooting just 41.6 percent from the floor and struggling from beyond the arc with just 6.4 3s per game.
Freshman forward Courtajia Sanders leads the Indians with 14 points a game, followed by sophomore guard Tyra Johnson with 12 points, 11 points from Valerie Nesbitt and 10 points from Namiko Adams.
Bart Walker's crew boasts a more impressive résumé.
The Raiders are outscoring foes 81-39 on the season and ranked fourth in the country after a 15-0 turn through nonconference play.
They're shooting 51.2 percent from the floor, 43 percent from 3 and controlling the glass with a plus-23 margin overall and a plus-12 margin in conference.
Defensively, only Pensacola State has topped 58 points against NWF State and the Raiders held Gulf Coast State, an opponent that entered Wednesday averaging 81 points a night, to a 4-for-28 effort from 3, below 25-percent shooting and a season-low 50 points.
In conference play, 6-foot-2 forward Awa Trasi leads the Raiders with 15.5. points per game and guard Ann Jernigan is pouring in 14.5 points a night to accent eight rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. guard Georgia Gayle is contributing 10 points, 6.5 rebounds and four assists per game and Ashley Lee is chipping in eight points and eight rebounds a night.