Balk call proves costly for Panthers
Jose Lazaro threw his hands up in the air, wearing a look of disgust and disbelief. The Palm Beach State (Fla.) College pitcher had just heard the umpire call out the word “balk” behind him.
Central Alabama Community College’s Darius Reese trotted down the third-base line and touched home plate.
A 4-3 deficit for Lazaro and the Panthers in the bottom of the sixth inning had grown to a seemingly insurmountable count of 5-3.
Palm Beach State would never recover.
A few innings later, Central Alabama players were storming the infield at Suplizio Field for a celebratory dogpile. With their 7-3 win, the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series title belonged to the Trojans.
The umpiring crew told Lazaro, who had come on in relief of starting pitcher Ryan Pistey, that he raced through his motion without stopping. The sophomore hurler, who will pitch for Elon University in North Carolina next school year, disagrees.
“He said I didn’t stop, but every time I pitch I make sure I stop my movement for at least two seconds,” Lazaro insisted. “I think it was a terrible, terrible call, and I don’t feel it needed to be made at that moment. It just really ruined the game.”
Lazaro had surrendered the go-ahead run with a wild pitch earlier in the fateful frame, firing a pitch wide with Reese at the plate.
Baseball is a game that punishes a player’s every misstep, and Central Alabama took full advantage in the sixth inning Saturday night.
“We’ve taken advantage of our opportunities,” said Central Alabama’s Zach Rinehart, who was at the plate for Lazaro’s balk. “That’s a lot of the way you have to win in junior college baseball, taking advantage of all the opportunities you get. If you don’t, it won’t last.”
The Trojans nearly cashed in on a golden opportunity in the fourth inning when Reese legged out an infield single that almost wasn’t.
Reese bounced a grounder to shortstop that Marcus Mooney fielded after a long run and fired to first as Reese crossed the bag. The World Series MVP-to-be was initially called out, but after an argument from Central Alabama coach Wynn Fletcher, the umpiring crew conferred and reversed the call.
With runners at the corners and no outs, the Panthers were in trouble — and ostensibly rattled.
Even still, Pistey somehow escaped the jam, albeit with a bout of good fortune as the Trojans’ Ben Hall and B.J. Martin both smoked line drives that found their way into infielders’ gloves. Rinehart then bounced out to second.
“That just felt like the baseball gods said he was out,” Rinehart said with a big laugh.
But Palm Beach’s composure had taken a hit. And it would weather a few more blows before the game’s end.
And, like they have all season long in their run to a JUCO World Series title, the Trojans took advantage.