North Florida Christian's Class 2A state semifinal game Monday has been seen as similar to a business trip.
There's still excitement about besting one of the top baseball teams in the state, St. Johns Country Day, in order to have the opportunity. However, the Eagles are focusing on doing their job down in Fort Myers:
It's an exciting time for NFC, but nothing too new.
Over the past five seasons, NFC has played for regional title three times and made the trip to the state tournament in Fort Myers twice. But the Eagles have not won the title since 2014. It's been almost a yearly tradition that the Eagles make it to the regional title game or semi-state.
In having that experience, NFC is focused on staying the track and not getting caught up in the moment when it comes to playing on a big stage and possibly a state championship.
"We talked about that today, and we know what we're capable of doing," Eagles coach Mike Posey said. "The biggest thing is we're practicing at mid-day because our game is a 1 o'clock, and it's going to be a lot hotter down there than it is here. We just have to draw strengths from each other, don't stress out, and have fun."
FHSAA Class 2A Baseball semi-state information
Game 1: No. 1 Miami Christian (27-3) vs. No. 4 Foundations Academy (21-7-1) 10 a.m.
Game 2: No. 2 North Florida Christian (21-5) vs. No. 3 Out-Of-Door Academy (20-8) 1 p.m.
Where: Lee County Sports Complex - Hammond Stadium (Fort Myers)
Watch: NFHS Network (subscription required)
Tickets: $9 per day if purchased in advance via GoFan, and $12 if purchased day of
Things did start off a little rickety for NFC.
Similar to its football and basketball teams, the Eagles had a lot of talent, but also a lot of youth. They came into this season graduating a large senior class and looking towards a large group to step up. Despite a younger look and spending a chunk of the year finding out their identity, the Eagles dominated their schedule.
NFC went 16-5, with three of its losses coming by two runs or less. Even against some of the better teams in the state, the Eagles found ways to win. Into the postseason, NFC outscored its district competition, 25-0 to win the district title before heading into a challenging regional field. In three games, NFC came back three times, not only leading it to a regional title but allowing it to discover who it truly was.
"We have a lot of grit. We've fought, scratched, and clawed all year," Posey said. "We haven't been perfect, and had some bumps in the road, but we've just need to believe in ourselves. As the season progressed, this team has gotten closer, and there's a lot of comradery in this team. We've just got to believe in what we do."
What NFC has been able to do is lean on its underclassmen on the bats and its upperclassmen on defense. The Eagles' offense has scored over 200 runs this season, led off by junior Jedd Jones, who is boasting a batting average of .400. It's no surprise that junior Traylon Ray is towards the top of NFC's slugging rankings, batting a .393 bringing in 31 runs off of 33 hits.
Sophomore Kaseman Pressly has had a break-out season for his first full year on varsity, hitting a team-high six home runs off of 22 hits. Running up and down NFC's depth chart, it shows that this team loves to hit the ball, connecting 219 times in 26 games, which is almost 100 hits over the national average.
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On the mound, it's two seniors Aiden Butler and Tucker Narkinsky, and sophomore Garrett Workman, have all been dependable this season. Narkinsky and Workman both hold ERA's around 1.50 and Butler leads the table in strikeouts with 61. All have pitched around 47 innings this year, and all boast very similar and strong numbers.
It's a young group that looks like they've been here before, but none of them have. Posey said that the team's confidence going into big-time game situations can be credited to a coaching staff that has been there before. Posey has led countless groups deep into the playoffs, but assistant coaches Chris Jerry and Travis Ray know what it's like to play on that field.
"Travis was on three teams, 2014 when we won it, 2015 when we were runner up and 2016 when we lost in the regional final," Posey said. "Chris went down as a freshman when we won it in 2014, and he's got experience too. We've got some young coaches that the kids have gotten close to, and that's a big plus."
North Florida Christian faces a team that's also pretty familiar with Fort Myers: Out-Of-Door Academy. The Thunder are defending state champions and edged out Seffner Christian, 5-4 in nine innings to win the Region 3 title. On the other side of the bracket, top-seeded Miami Christian plays Foundations Academy at 10 a.m.
There's a lot going on and a lot to think about when it comes to state semifinals, but NFC is focused on what they can do and not what anyone else is doing. They've grown to become confident in their game and want to come back to Tallahassee with a state championship.
"You've gotta worry about yourself. You can't get there and be all emotional," Posey said. "It's exciting to be down there, but you gotta go down there and play. You can't worry about circumstances and things that happen. You've got to worry about yourself. We just need to do the things we're capable of doing."
Jack Williams covers prep sports for Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jackgwilliams.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: NFC 'focused on self' heading to Fort Myers for FHSAA baseball state tourney