Panama City, FL - As if trying to erase a three-game deficit over the final four days of the regular season wasn't enough of a task, Tallahassee Community College added an extra degree of difficulty to the challenge in Friday's regular season finale at Gulf Coast State College.
Through five innings, Tallahassee trailed 5-1 and Gulf Coast State starter Cameron Ragsdale had limited the Eagles to three hits. Then, with only 12 outs remaining in their season, the bats came to life and the Eagles rallied for seven runs over the final four innings to defeat the Commodores, 8-5.
Coupled with Chipola College's 13-5 win over Northwest Florida State College, Tallahassee also locked up the Panhandle Conference's Wild Card berth and will play Mid-Florida Conference Wild Card Seminole State College at 5 p.m. Monday in Palatka, Fla., for the right to advance to the FCSAA Tournament in Lakeland, Fla., May 9-14.
Tallahassee (37-16) and Northwest Florida State finished with identical 9-11 records in league play, but the Eagles won the tie-breaker by virtue of winning the season series against the Raiders, three games to two. The combination of events also gave Chipola the outright PC Championship and the league's No. 1 seed at the FCSAA Tournament. Gulf Coast State, with its postseason ticket already in tow prior to Friday's game, will be the PC's No. 2 seed.
After dropping seven of eight, Tallahassee was 6-11 in PC play and faced elimination when Northwest Florida State came to town on Tuesday. The Eagles won that game – to clinch the head-to-head – and then avoided elimination again on Wednesday with a 15-7 win over Gulf Coast State.
Both of those games, however, were at the friendly confines of Eagle Field. Entering Friday's game, Tallahassee had dropped six straight on the road and was only 1-8 away from home during PC play.
Freshman Collin Strall, who tossed the final 3.1 innings and earned the win in Wednesday's 15-7 win over Gulf Coast State, got the start and pitched another 3.1 innings on Friday.
The game couldn't have started much better for the home team.
The Commodores used three well-placed hits, a couple of passed balls and an error on a potential double-play ball to take a 4-0 lead after one.
After Robert Henderson got the Eagles on the board in the top of the third with a solo homer, Strall gave up a matching solo blast to Christian Williams in the bottom half, the Commodores' final run of the game.
Strall and teammate Victor Cole shut out Gulf Coast State over the final 6.2 innings and allowed only three hits combined.
As it often does at Bill Frazier Field, the wind was blowing out and Tallahassee got back in the game by playing long ball.
Down 5-1, Christian Dicks led off the sixth with a home run to center field. An inning later, Henderson doubled with one out then scored on Jonathan Burkett's two-run blast which chased Ragsdale. Following a strikeout, Dicks pulled the Eagles even with his second solo homer, this one off eventual losing pitcher Brandon Pergantis.
In the bottom of the seventh, Gulf Coast State had the go-ahead run at second with nobody out following Dalton Kelly's leadoff single and a passed ball, but Cole, making his first appearance since April 9, retired the next three batters, including a strikeout of cleanup hitter Nick Flair, to end the threat.
Tallahassee continued its late-inning scoring parade in the eighth.
Leadoff hitter Quincy Nieporte reached base and took second when Gulf Coast State third baseman Ryan Koziol's throw sailed over Trevor Foster's head at first. One batter later, D.J. McKnight singled home Nieporte with the go-ahead run.
Cole dodged another bullet in the bottom of the eighth after issuing a leadoff walk to Williams.
With time now running short for the Commodores, the speedy Dondrayas Harris was inserted as a pinch runner. Cole struck out the next two batters while mixing in several throws to first then caught Harris leaning towards second and retired him 2-6 to end the threat.
Tallahassee added a couple of insurance runs in the ninth on back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Ryne Willard and McKnight, and Cole closed the door by striking out Foster to end the game.
In an ironic twist, Cole, who moved into the starting rotation this season after being named the PC Fireman of the Year as a freshman, shut out the Commodores over the final 5.2 innings to earn the win. He allowed only two hits and struck out seven.
McKnight paced the Eagles' offensively, going 4-for-5 with two RBI. Dicks was 2-for-5 with the two solo home runs. Henderson (2-for-3) doubled, homered and scored twice.