AVON PARK — South Florida State College capped its regular season home schedule with a 12-0 loss to Polk State College on Friday night at Panther Field.
The seven-inning victory improved the Eagles to 22-6 in Suncoast Conference play and 36-12 overall, while the Panthers dropped to 7-21 and 18-35.
“It was a very frustrating night for us. We definitely didn’t have the kind of night we wanted,” South Florida State College baseball coach Rick Hitt said. “It’s a disappointing way to end the season at home for sure, especially for the sophomores. They’re a great class and we wish them well.”
One bad inning was the death nail for SFSC. The Panthers gave up six runs in the top of the second, putting themselves in a deep hole which proved insurmountable in trying to beat the conference’s best team.
“Polk State showed tonight why they’re going to the playoffs,” Hitt said, whose Panthers were eliminated from the state tournament last Friday. “They played well tonight and they deserved the win. Our guys battled hard and have worked hard through all the challenges of this season, but after a slow start to the year, despite playing over .500 ball down the stretch, unfortunately the math caught up with us.”
Kyle Cunningham came into the game in the third and cooled the Eagles’ bats, but the Panthers continued to struggle on offense.
Between the second and fifth inning, SFSC totaled just three baserunners. The club looked ready to rally in the bottom of the fourth, but Polk State turned a 6-4-3 double play to nullify the Panthers’ scoring chances.
SFSC had its best opportunity to light up the scoreboard in the sixth inning. A line-drive single from Austin Johnson opened the inning, and Josh Townsend followed with a walk. Austin Bingham loaded the bases thanks to an error from the Eagles first baseman.
With Jorge Flores at the plate, scoring seemed to be little more than a formality for the Panthers. But Polk State’s Casey Kulina forced Flores into a pop-up to third base for an easy out.
Kulina retired Taylor Layner and Rodney Forbes with help from his infield and the bend-but-don’t-break mentality of the Eagles defense got them out of the inning unscathed.
“We’ve played from behind a lot this year, and most of the time, we’ve been able to overcome it,” Hitt said. “But tonight, getting down by so much early was just too difficult. We got our share of knocks, but we got impatient at the plate and that will do you in every time.”
While Hitt loses nine sophomore’s from this year’s team, he returns a solid nucleus of players, which include multifaceted players like Forbes, Flores, Isaiah Dean, Richard Trotter, and Chris Kazen, along with pitchers Jose Munoz-Rivera, Tyler Knowles, and Bingham.
“We’ll be looking to improve on everything in the offseason,” Hitt said. “The players will have the summer off, but then we’ll start looking towards fall ball and trying to get bigger, stronger, faster, and working on ways to improve as a person.”
Hitt, who has guided several Panther teams to the postseason, issued a special thank you to the fans of this year’s squad.
“Our fans are very important to us,” Hitt said. “We had another great crowd tonight. And we really appreciate all the support they give our team and the college, especially the Trotter family with all their donations. We wish we could’ve put on a little bit better of a show for the fans tonight, but we’re hoping to get back on track next season and play the kind of baseball they’re used to seeing around here.”