Veteran Polk State finally breaks through in district

Polk State (Fla.) College is making its first appearance in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, but coach Al Corbeil isn’t.

Corbeil is somewhat of a veteran of the JUCO World Series, playing for what was then Manatee (Fla.) Community College in 1999.

“Everybody knows that’s the ultimate goal,” Corbeil said. “When I went out there as a player in ‘99 with Manatee, that was the highlight of my career. There’s nothing that compares to it. The whole town shuts down. It’s all about the World Series.”

Corbeil took over the Polk State program last season and had the Eagles two wins away from qualifying for the JUCO World Series. Ten players returned from that team this season.

“We were fortunate we had quite a few guys returning from last year’s club,” Corbeil said. “I think they were hungry to get back to the state championship.

“I think without a doubt it helps a whole lot to have guys that have been there and done it. There is so much turnover at the junior college level, you lose at least half your ballclub each year. Having them reap the benefits is rewarding.”

The fifth-ranked Eagles (45-10), who won the Gulf District title, have 12 sophomores, 11 of whom have signed letters of intent with four-year programs. All but two players on their roster are from Florida.

“That’s something we try, to keep kids nearby,” Corbeil said. “We’re fortunate to be in Florida where we’re at. We’re in the middle of the state between Orlando and Tampa.”

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Alec Asher returned to his hometown after a year at Santa Fe (Fla.) College and dominated this season, earning the Florida College System Activities Association pitcher of the year. Asher (12-1, 1.38 ERA) has four complete games and one shutout in 19 starts.

“We’re fortunate to have him,” Corbeil said. “He’s an exceptional arm. He has a ton of potential and has worked extremely hard.”

Asher, who was drafted out of high school, signed with the University of Tampa (Fla.), a perennial NCAA Division II national title contender, but is expected to be drafted again the week after JUCO.

“He lost 25 to 30 pounds and got a taste of what it feels like to be in shape,” Corbeil said. “He went 41 innings without an earned run. He had a perfect game going into the ninth during that stretch.”

Asher is closing in on the school strikeout record.

Sophomore second baseman Conor Szczerba and sophomore outfielder Michael Danner made the FCSAA first team.

“Danner is a two-time all-state selection,” Corbeil said. “He’s hit in the three hole every game for 2 years and led the state in RBI, possibly the nation. He’s a well-rounded athlete. He’s been phenomenal for us for two years. He runs well, can swing the bat. He has a knack for driving guys in. He hit a home run in the seventh to ignite us in the 15-inning game (in the Gulf District).”

Danner has signed with the University of Tampa.

“Szczerba is a great, fun-loving kid,” Corbeil said. “He’s a well-rounded athlete. He and Mike lead by example for our club.”

The leadoff hitter led the state in runs scored and stolen bases and was the Suncoast Conference player of the year. He has signed with Florida Southern.

Freshman catcher Erik Hindmon and sophomore pitcher Brian Johnson made the second team. Hindmon was voted the region’s defensive player of the year.

“Hindmon does a great job,” Corbeil said. “He handles the pitching staff that led the state in ERA. It’s been fun watching him. I couldn’t be happier. He replaced an all-state catcher last year.”

Johnson was the ace of the staff last year. Designated hitter Brett Jones and outfielder Ryne Knuth also made the Gulf District all-tournament team.

“I’m happy with club as a whole,” Corbeil said. “We play an unselfish brand of baseball.

“We have a great group of kids. They are a very blue-collar bunch. They work hard every day.”

Polk State reached the top of the NJCAA national rankings in March before conference play started, but lost its first three conference games.

“That was a wake-up call,” Corbeil said. “No one will roll over for you. We played well after that. We went 16-2 in conference after that point.”


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