Come Wednesday night, 13 Polk State Baseball sophomores will take Bing Tyus Yard for the final time.
The Eagles will celebrate Sophomore Night before playing host to Hillsborough Community College. The sophomores have varying stories as to how they arrived at Polk State. The group consists of some three-year players, who were granted an extra year of eligibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some transfers who will spend just one season with the Eagles.
Each will be honored prior to the regular season finale.
“It’s a nice night for them and for their families…” head coach Al Corbeil said. “More than anything, I’m grateful for the time we’ve had with these guys, the character they have, the hard work they put in, and how we get to keep building on top of each other each year, because we’re bringing in quality kids who do a good job in the classroom and move on to four-year schools.”
For the sophomores, their baseball careers will not end at the conclusion of this season. Each is committed to a four-year school:
Name, position, next school
• Nick Collins, first baseman, Houston
• George Davis, outfielder, Georgia Southwestern State
• Jack Duffy, outfielder/first baseman, Houston
• Kyle Ericson, catcher, Eckerd
• Carter Geier, second baseman, Mercer
• Skylar Gonzalez, pitcher, South Florida
• Dakota Harris, shortstop, Tennessee
• Jacob Heath, pitcher, West Florida
• Kade Manderscheid, pitcher, West Florida
• Elijah McCormack, pitcher, Florida Tech
• Major Posey, pitcher, West Florida
• Rohsean Riley, third baseman, Florida Southern
• Ethan Stephens, pitcher, Florida Tech
Over the last two seasons, Polk State has won more than 60% of its games. The Eagles reached the state tournament last year and hope for better results as they’ll return this season. When the sophomores look back on their time as Eagles, there is a range of memories and emotions.
For Ericson and Duffy, each recalled last year’s regular season finale. It was unclear whether the Eagles would make the state tournament. After beating St. Petersburg College, Polk State needed Florida SouthWestern State to knock off State College of Florida to advance.
“My greatest memory is last year (when) we won the last game of the season, and we were in the locker room waiting to find out if we clinched our spot in the state tournament,” Ericson recalled. “When we did, it was really fun to celebrate that.”
For pitchers Gonzalez and McCormack, their best memories didn’t seem fun at the time.
“Before we ever touched a ball, we were out here fixing the fences, shoveling rock, taking care of the edges, and doing the stuff that usually doesn’t get done,” McCormack said.
For Gonzalez, he recalled what the program called, “Mental Health Week” – a week dedicated to strengthening the mind and body — with challenges beginning at 5 a.m.
“We just do a bunch of challenges that really test us mentally,” he said. “The workouts were really hard…In the moment, it sucks, but looking back on it now, it was a lot of fun and I’m really glad I got to challenge myself with my teammates.”
As student-athletes, being competitors come naturally. For Manderscheid and Davis, they recalled friendly non-baseball competitions.
“My best memory is proving to myself and my teammates that I’m the best cornhole player here by winning the cornhole tournament,” Davis said.
“My greatest memory was my freshman year, playing handball in my apartment, throwing the ball as hard as we can at each other and just having a good time,” Manderscheid recalled.
Stephens was happy he got to pitch in the state tournament last season. He allowed just a run on three hits in four innings of relief against Miami Dade.
“I came here as a walk-on,” Stephens said. “To be able to have a role here is a good feeling.”
Polk State lost to Miami Dade in that contest, 9-6. Duffy said he won’t forget the way it started.
“I hit a lead-off a home run to start the game,” Duffy recalled.
Heath, the team’s closer, recalled a road trip to Florida’s capital city. The team stayed for multiple days and not in a hotel.
“My freshman year, we loaded up the vans for a three-game set in Tallahassee where we camped in between each game out in the woods,” Heath chuckled. “We had some good times there.”
For Collins, a power-hitting first baseman, it was hard to narrow it down to one moment.
“I’m going to look back at all the morning workouts and the time we spent on the field, lifting weights, all the competition we’ve had out here, and all the bus rides,” he said. “They all just add up and they’re all great times.”
What it Means to be a Polk State Eagle
When players reflected on what it meant to be part of the Polk State program, two small words came up often – “a lot.”
“Being a part of this program has meant a lot to me,” Riley said. “I got to meet a lot of new guys who will be forever friends and got a great experience with the coaches and built a really big bond that will never be broken.”
Manderscheid appreciates the foundation of excellence that was laid before he arrived.
“’Corbs’ put a lot of hard work into this program,” he said. “Every guy who comes out of this program is a really hard worker, tough as nails, and we all love it.”
Ericson and Harris offered similar sentiments.
“A lot of great players have come through here,” Ericson said. “There’s a lot of great history here, especially under Coach Corbeil and I’m glad to be part of it.”
“Being a part of this program is definitely an honor,” Harris said. “You see the people who have been here and obviously the way the coaches treat you is just like no other.”
For Posey, Polk State offered a chance to heal.
“Coming from UCF, I was hurt and when I got here, I didn’t know if I would be able to throw without pain,” Posey reflected. “‘Corbs’ really helped me a lot and helped me grow as a person.”
Personal Growth Through Baseball
Collins said that when he first arrived at Polk State, academics were not a priority. He was nearly academically ineligible but was able to turn things around.
“This program changed my life in so many ways,” he recalled. “When I got here, I wasn’t the greatest student. I didn’t have a lot of confidence as a person. With how this program works and how we compete, it helped me grow overall.”
For Geier and many others, the growth has come through hard work.
“Obviously this program has been very successful,” the Mercer commitment said. “The hard work we put in…teaches you a lot as a person.”
“As a man, I’ve become way more mature and way more responsible,” Ericson said. “The coaches find ways to give everybody responsibilities that you have to hold yourself accountable for.”
Heath has learned not to dwell on the past or look too far ahead, and to stay persistent.
“More than anything, the way I think I’ve grown is just perspective on life and learning that every day is a new opportunity to achieve the things I’m after in life,” he said. “It doesn’t matter about the…day before or even the next day. It’s all about the moment…and doing the most you can.”