By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE — Need a rundown of the first third of Panhandle Conference play?
NWF State (18-0, 4-0) couldn't lose. Pensacola State (14-6, 0-4) couldn't win.
Yep, the starts couldn't have been more disparate for the women's basketball rivals, who are wading in the waters of a lauded league that includes seventh-ranked Gulf Coast State (15-2, 3-1), ninth-ranked Chipola (17-3, 2-2) and 10th-ranked Tallahassee (19-3, 1-3).
The latest setback for Pensacola State was Saturday's humbling 91-56 loss at home to Tallahassee, which four days earlier lost 70-63 to the Raiders at home.
Before that, the Pirates lost 67-60 at Chipola, 71-59 at Gulf Coast State and 63-58 at The Arena.
Even so, NWF State coach Bart Walker isn't overlooking the Pirates. He's too smart, too seasoned to overlook any team in the toughest conference in the land.
"We see a team that's very dangerous," Walker said. "They ran into a buzzsaw of a Tallahassee team that came out and played well after losing a few close games. If you don't play well in this conference, that can happen.
"We know anybody can be beaten anytime."
Four games into league play, NWF State is doing most of the beating.
The Raiders beat the 25th-ranked Pirates 63-58 at The Arena in the opener, and sandwiched a 63-56 win at home over Chipola with a pair of road wins at Gulf Coast State and Tallahassee.
"This is how every Panhandle coach draws it up and I'm extremely proud," Walker said. "We've won a couple of games on the road and have been very fortunate to find a way to win close games. So far, I'm happy. But we got to maintain that hunger and being humble."
Humble seems like a strange way to describe a team that's been ranked No. 1 the whole year. And not just in the Sunshine State, but in the country.
The glue has been NWF State's defense and interior play.
Create pressure, get takeaways, attack the rim and create good looks in the post ... rinse, repeat.
It's a formula that's helped the Raiders in Panhandle play shoot 50 percent from the floor, get to the line 25 times and force nearly 30 turnovers a night.
The efficiency, meanwhile, features just 7.2 3 3-point attempts a night compared to their opponents' 18.2.
"If we get turnovers, we get good looks," Walker said. "And the post play is coming around, so we can score inside every which way. Because of that we've been getting to the line and outscoring teams in the post.
"We're aggressive. We're the type of offense that doesn't need to take a lot of 3s."
The Raiders are outscoring league foes 68-61 on the backs of many.
"Sixth man" Cece Mayo is averaging 13.8 points on a blistering 70-percent shooting clip to accent 4.3 rebounds, two steals and a block a night. The aforementioned post play is shored up by 6-foot-3 centers Jaiden McCoy (12.3 points and seven rebounds) and Awa Trasi (9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds).
Meanwhile Shania Meertens is averaging 12.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, three assists and 1.3 steals and Georgia Gayle is filling up the stat sheet with 10 points, seven rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals.
The glue, the player that makes the run-and-gun offense go is Leandra Echi, a triple-double threat every night who averages 7.8 rebounds, seven assists, 6.5 points, four steals and 1.5 blocks per game.
To continue the success, Walker stressed building on the strengths and clamping down on ball-handling issues.
"We've been a little loose with the ball the last couple of games, just too many turnovers," Walker said. "Most of them are unforced. We just have to tighten that up."