MARIANNA – Chipola entered Thursday night perfect in the Panhandle and pacing what's become a two-horse conference race.
NWF State, fresh off its newly-minted No. 6 rank in the country, wasn't too impressed.
Behind Jacob Kush's complete-game gem and a nine-run fourth inning, the Raiders scored a 12-1 road win to hand the Indians their first Panhandle loss.
Those same Indians (21-10) who outscored Panhandle foes 58-18 during that 8-0 start.
But NWF State, improving to 30-7 and 11-2 in league play, expanded on an even more impressive streak. The Raiders have now won 21 of their last 23 games, including a 13-game stretch where they've outscored Panhandle foes 96-30.
Against Chipola, Kush had everything working.
The freshman righthander struck out seven and allowed just one run on three hits over seven innings. Kush is now 6-1 on the season with a 1.74 ERA.
And he got more than ample run support.
Against the quartet of Jake Smith, Michael Cullen, Matthew Dickey and Jacob Smith, the Raiders had 14 base knocks, including multi-hit efforts by Justice Lucas, Jake Randa, Mikey Madej, Kaden Polcovich, Brock Franks and Tanner Johnson.
Smith, though, silenced NWF State for the first three innings.
But down 1-0, NWF State's bats erupted in the fourth inning for six hits and three walks and nine runs.
Lucas, a 2018 Fort Walton Beach alumnus, got things started with a one-out double and Franks and Blaine Smith followed with back-to-back walks. That set the stage for Johnson's two-run double for a 2-1 lead. Randa, Madej and Polcovich followed with back-to-back-to-back RBI singles and Will Moriarty, following a Chipola error, delivered a sac fly to set the stage for Lucas. Ahead 7-1, Lucas cleared the fences on a two-run blast to left to give the Raiders a 9-1 lead.
Doug Martin's crew tacked on a run in the sixth frame and two in the seventh.
Smith earned the loss for 15th-ranked Chipola with five runs allowed on six hits and a pair of walks over 3 1/3 innings. The three relievers combined to allow seven runs over the next 3 2/3.
Lucas went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and two runs and Polcovich went 2-for-5 with three RBIs and a run. Johnson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs and Randa went 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI.
Madej went 2-for-5 with a run, RBI and stolen base, Franks went 2-for-3 with a run and Will Moriarty went 1-for-3 with a run and an RBI.
NWF State now leads Chipola by a half game in the Panhandle standings and is well ahead of Pensacola State (17-21, 3-9), Gulf Coast State (20-13, 2-7) and Tallahassee (21-15, 2-7).
The Raiders next welcome Chipola to Niceville Saturday for a doubleheader that begins at 1 p.m.