By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – When NWF State skipper Doug Martin was named Panhandle Coach of the Year, he deflected the praise.
This attitude, as NWF State prepares for today's noon opener against State College of Florida in the Gulf District/FCSAA State Baseball Tournament in Lakeland, is a microcosm of the Raiders' success.
The staff ERA is 2.63. The lineup is batting a collective .298 with a .406 OBP.
Added up, the Raiders (fifth nationally and second in the state) have outscored foes 363-164 on the season en route to a 40-10 mark, including a 19-5 record in league play for their first Panhandle Conference title since 2011.
Cue the all-Panhandle accolades for the Raiders, which included eight first-teamers, two second-teamers, the Pitcher of the Year in Jacob Kelchner, the Defensive Player of the Year in Mikey Madej, the Fireman of the Year in Jackson Boyd and, as mentioned earlier, Martin's Coach of the Year honor.
"The accolades are a tribute to the hard work of the players and staff," Martin said. "It's certainly a team game and we win and lose a team.
"Considering this is a conference with three of the last four national champions, this is a big deal to be all-Panhandle. This is the best junior college league in the country."
The team mentality extended to his individual honor, which Martin wishes to rename to "Coaching Staff of the Year."
"Because we really do. It's really the best staff." Martin said. "Everyone contributed. David Garner is a legend around here who's been everywhere from Niceville to Fort Walton to Crestview and his role has been that of a mentor to younger coaches and players. In terms of mental space, he does such a good job of keeping everyone feeling good. Chris Johns, he's the lead assistant if you will, the head of recruiting, and he's recruited so many of our all-conference guys.
"There's Matt Miller, who works with the hitters and does a consistent job of doing that. And Tanner Halstead, who was a catcher for us in 2015 when we won it all, he works with the catching group and he's developed great relationships with the players because he is so young and isn't that far removed from their position. And also Zach deGraaf, who was a Crestview player a few years ago. He's turned himself into a great jack of all trades and does whatever we need."
Fittingly the group effort has the Raiders as one of the favorites this week at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland. Twenty-nine wins in the last 34 contests will do that.
This will be the fourth FCSAA tournament appearance in the last five years for the Raiders, who will be joined by seven other teams in the field that includes the winners and runners-up from the Panhandle, Mid-Florida, Suncoast and Southern Conferences. The double-elimination tournament continues through Tuesday and the winner of the tournament will advance to the NJCAA Division I Baseball World Series later this month in Grand Junction, Colorado.