Polk State -- won the FCSAA Suncoast Conference title for just the second time in their 50-year history in 2012---is heading to the NJCAA Division I Junior College World Series for the first time after defeating Palm Beach State 8-4 in the championship game of the NJCAA Region 8/FCSAA tournament. The Eagles went 5-1 in the tournament to improve 45-10 overall.
To open up the tournament, Polk defeated Northwest Florida State -- the second seed from the Panhandle Conference -- 4-3. The Eagles then suffered their lone loss of the tournament as they fell to Palm Beach -- the number one seed from the Southern Conference -- 4-0 in 11 innings. After the loss to Palm Beach, Polk bounced back with a 3-1 victory over Santa Fe College -- the top seed from the Mid-Florida Conference --, and a 14-0 shellacking of Chipola College -- the number one seed from the Panhandle. The Eagles earned their trip to the regional title game with a 4-0 victory over NW Florida on May 7.
For the first time in school history, Polk entered the region tournament as the top ranked team in the state. The Eagles have now been ranked number in the FCSAA Coaches poll three times since their program's inception.
May 7 th games
In the game against NW Florida, Polk got a solid performance out of sophomore starter Alec Asher. Asher --selected as the tournament's top pitcher -- scattered seven hits in 7.2 innings to earn his 10 th victory of the season. Sophomore Steve Burnham finished the final 1.1 innings to pick up his third save of the year. Sophomores Connor Szczerba and Mike Danner as well as freshmen Eric Hindmon and Brett Jones each drove in a run for the Eagles.
In the regional championship against Palm Beach, Polk erupted for four runs and four hits in the bottom of the eighth to secure the region championship for the Eagles. Three of Polk's four runs came with two outs against three different pitchers. Sophomores Kyle Chastain, Ryne Knuth, Colt Hanker and Szczerba each tallied runs in the inning. Polk tied the game in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run homer to left center by sophomore Mike Danner. The homer was Danner's 10th of the season.
In the top of the ninth, the Eagles' sophomore reliever Chris Waltermire began the inning with a strikeout and a walk. Following the walk, Waltermire induced a game-ending double play.
Other team news:
- Polk State is located in Winter Haven.
- The 2012 Suncoast Conference championship is the Eagles -- 16-5 in conference -- second straight and third overall.
- Connor Szczerba made an emotional mistake in Polk's extra-inning loss to Palm Beach on May 4. In the ninth inning, an exuberant Szczerba -- thought he scored the game's first run -- was called out for missing home plate.
- Alec Asher, Mike Danner, sophomore Brian Johnson, Brett Jones, Ryan Knuth and Szczerba were named to the Region 8 All-Tournament team.
- For the second time in two seasons, head coach Al Corbeit has led the Eagles to a new school record for wins. In 2011 -- Corbeit's first season at Polk --, the Eagles won a then school record 43 games. Polk again broke the win mark with their 45 victories in 2012.
- The Eagles -- ranked sixth in the final NJCAA national poll -- will now be heading to Grand Junction, Colorado for the DI JUCO World Series starting May 26.
Daniel Benjamin has followed small college baseball for 20 years.