Chipola College is not a favorite at the state tournament this year, but history shows the Lady Indians' position is fortuitous.
They defeated Tallahassee in a tiebreaker for fourth place in the Panhandle Conference. It secured the final berth in the FCCAA Gulf District/NJCAA Region 8 tournament in Auburndale. Chipola won the Panhandle Conference titles in 2007 and 2008, but now must forge through as a fourth seed.
This leaves Chipola (30-19) with a first-round game on Friday at 11 a.m. against Suncoast Conference champion Polk (30-25). However, Tallahassee was in an identical situation a year ago and the Eagles, who opened the tournament near .500, rallied through the draw and earned a spot in the national tournament. Chipola aims to duplicate that feat and qualify for nationals for the second time in three seasons.
Joining Chipola from the Panhandle Conference are champion Northwest Florida State (41-8), runner-up Gulf Coast and Pensacola (31-17). NWF is considered the favorite, as the Raiders feature workhorse pitcher Samantha Schoenwald, who is 22-1 with a 0.52 ERA.
The Panhandle has been widely regarded as one of the top conferences in the state and the notion is represented in the Gulf District. Manatee is the only team outside of the Panhandle to win the event, as the Lancers won in 2005 and placed fifth at nationals.
The Gulf District winner plays the Atlantic District survivor for the state championship on Sunday. Indian River (46-9) and Santa Fe (47-7) are the favorites in the Atlantic District.
Indian River is ranked first in the state and second in the nation. Danielle Siebert leads the team in the pitcher's circle with a 25-2 mark, 170 strikeouts and a 0.65 ERA. Indian River also features the state's home run leader in Carly Speerin (13 homers in 147 at-bats).
Santa Fe is rated third in the state and eighth in the nation. The team features two stellar pitchers in Kimberly Squires (26-4, 0.79 ERA) and Ashley Schmitt (19-3).
Both the Atlantic and Gulf district champions qualify for the Division I national tournament. This year's national event has moved from Florida to St. George, Utah.