By SETH STRINGER
MARIANNA— The collapse is complete.
Needing just one win in its final four games to wrap up the runner-up spot in the Panhandle Conference and with it a Region 8 tournament spot, NWF State couldn't deliver.
The Raiders lost for for the second time in seven days to Tallahassee, which punched its playoff ticket with a 57-53 win over NWF State on Chipola's neutral court Tuesday night.
NWF State (22-5), ranked eighth in the country and second in the state, began the conference slate 7-2 before losing three straight to Gulf Coast State, Chipola and Tallahassee.
The skid allowed Tallahassee, ranked seventh in the nation, to shake off a 4-5 start to conference play and finish with three straight wins to force the playoff.
That included a 61-51 victory over NWF State last Wednesday. That momentum carried into Tuesday night, when the Eagles outscored the Raiders 19-10 in the third quarter and rode 23 points from Nakiah Black and 17 points from Japonica James to complete NWF State's collapse. Now the Raiders head home back to Niceville empty-handed with a long offseason looming.
NWF State went 2-1 against Tallahassee during the regular season, defeating the Eagles 64-56 at home and 62-56 on the road. Yet the winning record strangely had no impact on settling any tiebreaker.
Trinity Baptiste tried to will the Raiders to a win all by herself, delivering 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor and a 10-of-11 clip from the charity stripe. The 6-foot-2 freshman forward also had eight rebounds.
Despite committing 23 turnovers, the Raiders nearly came back from a 49-39 deficit to start the fourth quarter. A part of that was holding the Eagles to 33-percent shooting, although the Raiders shot just 33 percent themselves and 3-of-17 from 3.
The Raiders finish the season 22-6 and ranked eighth in the country and second in the state. A bounceback from 1-11 in the conference to 7-5 can be viewed as a minor success, but Bart Walker and his team won't be satisfied.
Of course next season he'll have had a full season to recruit. And, of course, a long offseason of what-ifs.