Polk State Baseball to celebrate 12 outgoing players on Sophomore Night

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Twelve sophomores will be celebrated on Thursday night as Polk State Baseball resumes Citrus Conference action against Seminole State College of Florida.

The program will hold its annual Sophomore Night. The 12 outgoing players will be honored prior to the 5 p.m. contest.

“This group is collectively one of the harder-working groups,” 14th-year Head Coach Al Corbeil said. “These kids work hard day in and day out. This club had a ton of experience with going to the postseason last year, so we expected a good group of leaders to set the tone and teach the younger guys how to go about their business and they’ve done a great job of that.”

Ten of the 12 are returning players for Polk State. Infielder Greg Pettay and outfielder Kelsen Johnson will each spend just one year with the Eagles after beginning their collegiate careers at other schools.

“What makes this program special is that everyone is super tight, and everyone plays for each other,” said Pettay, a transfer from the University of Central Florida. “It’s one of the best programs I’ve ever been a part of. They do things the right way. They respect the game of baseball and they play hard. You come out of here as a better baseball player, for sure.”

With less than two weeks remaining in the season, Polk State’s sophomores have helped continue a tradition of excellence. Over the weekend, the Eagles hit the 30-win mark for the fourth straight season. Only four other schools in the FCSAA have hit that plateau over the previous three seasons.

“I’ve grown a lot mentally, physically,” infielder Aaron Stelogeannis said. “I think that starts with Coach Corbeil. He works with you right out the gate. You don’t get that at many other places. Mentally, he challenges us every day to become a better man and a better baseball player.”

With a record of 31-19, Polk State is also in line for a fourth straight appearance in the FCSAA Tournament. Last season, the Eagles gave eventual FCSAA runner-up Northwest Florida State College all it wanted before falling in walk-off fashion in the decisive game of the Niceville Regional.

“My favorite memory from my time at Polk State is probably the series last year with Northwest Florida,” infielder Evan Wainman said. “Even though we lost the series, I enjoyed the time we had there — from the bus ride to the hotel room. We played as a team and that was really the moment we came together as a team.”

Polk State won the first game of the regional behind 6.2 solid innings from starting pitcher Evan Koehler – a moment he recalls fondly. It was the Eagles’ first FCSAA Tournament win since 2017.

“I’m most proud of my Northwestern (Florida) start,” Koehler said. “It was my first time in the postseason at any level of college. Going out there in that atmosphere, competing with my brothers, it was a blessing and an amazing time.”

Last season, Johnson was on the opposing side for Polk State’s Sophomore Night. As a first-team All-Suncoast Conference performer at St. Petersburg College, Johnson could only watch as the Eagles clinched an FCSAA Tournament berth in walk-off fashion. This season, Johnson hopes to help the Eagles make a return trip to the postseason.

“It’s been a wonderful experience on and off the field,” Johnson said of his decision to transfer to Polk State. “There’s a lot of stories we’ll be able to tell for a long time. This was the best decision I could have made for myself. My year at Polk State has been great and I really appreciate everything. The staff and administration here have been super supportive.”

Under Corbeil, Polk State has prided itself in player development. Infielder Roberto Odor and catcher Aris Rivera began their careers as walk-ons. Now, they’re both scholarship players and regarded as leaders on the team.

“This is a great place to grow and keep your head on straight and focus on baseball and school and the steps you need to take as a player,” said Rivera. “I just want to thank the coaching staff and Coach Al Corbeil for giving me this opportunity to come here and to graduate.”

“Coach Corbeil is not just a coach – he’s a father figure,” added Odor. “He tells you a lot of things and gives you a lot of life lessons. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, and he changed me a lot. It’s more than I could have imagined and I’m extremely grateful for that.”

Polk State Baseball has prided itself on sending players to four-year schools. Eight sophomores signed during the fall. This spring, Johnson, Wainman (both Georgia Southwestern State University), outfielder Pierce Glading (Valdosta State University), and pitcher Aiden Butler (Florida State University) have put pen to paper.

“This program has helped me grow from a boy to a man,” Glading said. “The advice I have for incoming freshmen is to come in(to the program) in shape and be ready to work.”

While Polk State has a talented group of freshman contributors to include Liam O’Neil and JT Long, the sophomores have anchored the team at the plate and on the mound.

“I came here from Georgia – eight hours from home – just to get a shot to play,” said starting pitcher Trevor Caldwell, a Jacksonville State University signee. “After my two years here, I’ve worked hard, and I have the opportunity to go play Division I baseball close to home.”

Damion Kenealy leads the team in multiple offensive categories, including batting average (.358), doubles (15), triples (2), RBIs (44), on-base percentage (.420), and slugging (.540). Pettay has provided the speed with a team-high 21 stolen bases.

“What I’ll remember the most is the friendships and team chemistry,” Kenealy reflected. “What makes the program special is everyone buying in for one common goal. Off the field, I feel like I’ve become a better person, making connections with the community.”

On the mound, the starting trio of Butler, Koehler, and Caldwell all have a sub-four ERA. Butler, a recent Florida State signee, ranks second in the FCSAA in wins (8), fifth in ERA (3.14), and third in strikeouts (76).

“The thing that makes this program special is the coaching staff and what they’re able to do with the kids out here,” Butler noted. “Corbs, (Pitching Coach Alec) Asher, and (Assistant Coach) Rougie (Odor) have impacted me a lot. I don’t know that I would have been able to find my four-year school without them helping me through the process.”

Ryan Combs, last season’s Suncoast Conference Fireman of the Year, continues to be a durable arm. The University of Tennessee signee ranks second on the team this season with 20 appearances.

“What I’ll remember the most from my time here is coming in for the big situation in games and practicing for them,” Combs said. “They’re definitely the most exciting and what I want to be in the game for.”

With another winning season guaranteed, Polk State can clinch a return trip to the FCSAA Tournament as early as this weekend. The Eagles hope to reach the final site for the first time since 2017 and win their first FCSAA title since 2012.

“We’ve had some great stories here,” Corbeil concluded. “We’ve had walk-ons who have come in and earned scholarships and become everyday players and earned scholarships at four-year schools. We’ve had guys here who had no other offers and now they’re getting draft interest. It’s really cool to watch them put the work in and develop.”