The Santa Fe High School (Alachua) baseball team is sending two more players to the college ranks.
That makes a total of four Raiders from the 2023 team who will be playing college baseball.
On Wednesday, Raiders’ left-handed pitcher Dawson Card and catcher Kyler Nowling both signed with two of the top junior college baseball programs in the country.
“The better your team does the more eyeballs that are going to come watch your team and the more chances you’re going to have to showcase your ability,” said Santa Fe baseball coach Travis Yeckring, whose team finished 18-10 and advanced to the Class 4A state playoffs. “So, I tell them let’s concentrate on being a good team and you’ll have more coaches who will want to come out and watch good baseball, and then it’s on you to be able to perform and showcase your abilities. But I’m super proud of all four guys who have signed. It’s a testament to our program to be able to send four guys to the next level.”
They are both headed to the Mid-Florida Conference and will continue to play locally.
Card will be playing for FCSAA state champion College of Central Florida in Ocala. The Patriots (51-6) advanced to their second straight JUCO World Series this past Sunday.
“Maybe the highest ceiling of any player who has come through the program since I’ve been here,” Yeckring said. “The left-handed arm is special. Once it clicks for him, it’s going to be scary. He throws really hard and spins an incredible breaking ball. As soon as he refines throwing strikes and being a little bit more polished on the mound, he’s going to be very successful for CF.”
When Dawson was a kid, he asked his dad one time, ‘what does it take to be at the next level?’
“He’s always just told me hard work and dedication, and I’ve been doing it with Kyler, obviously, because we’re both committed, but I’m very excited to be going to the next level and I’m very excited that I’ve put in all this work,” Card said. It’s a new opportunity.”
Nowling will play for a Saints’ program that won 40 games and finished 17th in the final NJCAA Division I rankings.
This past season he finished with 19 hits, 15 RBI, five doubles, and one home run.
“I’m excited,” Nowling said. “It’s a great opportunity. I get to stay in town and go compete at a top level JUCO in the country. I’m pumped. I’m excited. Being able to compete and get better, and work on my craft and improve. It’s a blessing. Not everyone gets to go play college baseball.”
Yeckring’s message about being a team player helped Nowling become a senior leader.
“We grew a lot as a team,” Nowling said. “You always want to end up being the one holding up the trophy at the end of the year but only one team gets to do that in each class, so unfortunately that wasn’t us. I think this year seeing the leadership abilities that I had, and I accepted along the way, it’s something that I can take to college and I can work on and some of my pros, and something that I bring to the field every day that will help me get on the field and slowly move my way up.”
Yeckring said “consistency” is the best word to describe Nowling.
“He’s a guy that’s going to come to the field every day, and bring it every single day, practice hard every day,” he said. “You never have to guess what you’re going to get with him. That’s what I loved about Kyler and I think that’s what was attractive about him. He plays a premier position, catcher, and you always need catchers, shortstops and arms. I think he became a really, really good defender. If he continues to get in the weight room and get a little bit more pop in his bat he can contribute for them.”
Card and Nowling were senior teammates, but now they’ll be competing against each other.
The Santa Fe College and College of Central Florida matchup has become quite the rivalry. The Saints finished 15-8 in the Mid-Florida Conference, while COCF won the conference with a 19-5 mark.
However, the Saints went 4-4 against the World Series-bound Patriots this season.
“Well I’m just going to blow fastballs passed him because I know he’s not going to hit those, but yeah I’m very excited to play against him,” Card said of his future meeting with his former catcher. “Our coaches hate each other apparently so we’re going to see that a lot next year.”
Nowling accepts the challenge.
“A challenge pushes you to be better,” he said. “It will always be love. You only grow up playing baseball one time and me and Dawson were always on the same travel teams, the same high school teams, stuff like that. Inside the lines we’re going to be competing, trying to be the better guy, but off the field it will always be the same love that always has been.”