By JOSH HYBER
NICEVILLE — When Jack Byerley took over the Northwest Florida State College softball team in 2008, two of the team's first conference games were in Marianna against national powerhouse Chipola.
The Raiders won both.
First up for the coach and his team on the 2017 conference slate: a doubleheader against the No. 2 nationally-ranked Indians on Thursday starting at 4 p.m.
"Getting the toughest team and the toughest road trip out of the way might be a good thing," Byerley said. "I'm not saying (winning both games is) going to happen again, but it can. You get prepared, you get ready to play and you put yourself in position to win."
With his team at 28-7 and riding a four-game win streak, Byerley feels confident heading into Panhandle Conference play. As a team, the Raiders have combined for a .344 batting average, .410 on-base percentage and .955 fielding percentage. Starting pitchers have combined for a 1.85 ERA.
"I like you guys. You're having fun. You're getting better and you're conscientious about what's going on," Byerley told his team on Monday.
Said the coach, "People are starting to understand how to play the game at this level, so it's been good. You've got to feel comfortable. Not overconfident."
For the Raiders, success starts and ends in the circle. Starters Dharma Rosbrugh and Louise Disi have started 16 and 15 games, respectively, and both have ERAs under 1.80. Rosbrugh, a freshman, has 13 complete games and 5.16 strikeouts per seven innings. Disi, a sophomore who entered the season coming off an injury, has seven complete games and averages 6.5 strikeouts per seven innings.
"They're ERAs that can make us winners," Byerley said. "For the both of them, when they're out there on the mound, they're both pretty driven."
At the plate, the Raiders have received the expected production from Kristin Lizardi (.421 batting average, 48 hits, 17 stolen bases), Tori Robinson (.359 batting average, six home runs, 20 RBI) and Tyra Bowers (.379 batting average, 20 stolen bases). They've also received an added boost from freshman Samantha Kummer (.500 on-base percentage in 24 at-bats and 10 walks).
This past weekend the Raiders beat Indian Hills Community College (Ottumwa, Iowa) and Midland College (Midland, Texas), two teams Byerley said are more comparable, talent-wise, to what the Raiders will face in conference play.
Byerley said games before conference play are about getting better and learning what the team is capable of doing. Despite back-to-back losses earlier this month against Southern Union State and Kirkwood Community College, the coach feels his team has accomplished just that.
"What we've done is put ourselves in position to be ready for the conference," Byerley said. "We've prepared ourselves. We know what we have to do and how to play the game.
"We'll see how it goes."