Palm Beach looks to strike like Reivers did last year

The saying, “Lightning never strikes the same place twice,” is a myth that would drive any good science nerd crazy.

Crazy as in willing to take a page out of SkyNet’s book and send a terminator back in time to find the clown who came up with that nonsense. Not to kill, mind you, but to give the pea-brain a stern lecture.

And what applies in science applies in baseball. Lightning can strike twice, which Palm Beach State (Fla.) College will look to do tonight when the Panthers play Central Alabama for the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series championship.

It was just one year ago that Iowa Western Community College lost Game 1 of the JUCO World Series, then defied elimination four times to reach the title game, where the Reivers defeated San Jacinto (Texas) College-North 6-5 in the final.

San Jac was the team that beat the Reivers, 5-2, in Game 1 of the 19-game tourney. In between, the Reivers won their first two elimination games, 4-1 and 6-4, then pounded the next two opponents, 14-1 and 10-0.

Similarly the Panthers lost the tourney’s first game, 6-4 to Central Alabama, but they avenged that loss Thursday night with a 13-4 victory over the Trojans. In between, they won their first elimination game 7-1, then needed 10 innings to win each of the next two.

But Palm Beach coach Kyle Forbes said he did not utter Word One to the Panthers about what Iowa Western did a year ago. Instead, he asked that they be of a singular focus.

“Because these teams are so good, we’re like, ‘We’re going to go one pitch at a time, and when we can cross that hurdle ...,” Forbes said. “Like I told them on the bus (Thursday), ‘We are not talking about being in the final game, because we have not crossed this hurdle.’ “

Thus, Palm Beach will not look past tonight’s opponent, as Forbes said, before knowing which team won Friday night, “It’s a tremendous challenge for us. We know how good both teams are, whichever one we face. And just like this whole year, nothing’s going to come easy.”

But he can look into the recent past and explain why the Panthers are in Grand Junction on the biggest Saturday night of the season, saying it’s surprising, yet no surprise, for this team during its first-ever trip to the JUCO World Series.

“If you had told me back in March when we had lost four conference games in a row that we were in the championship game, I think surprised would be an understatement,” Forbes said. “But since our conference tournament and the state tournament, we’ve been on a nice run where the team is playing hard, the pitching and defense is solid, and we’re swinging the bats well.

“So, back then I would have been shocked. The past three weeks, we’re excited about how we’re playing.”

Add to the pitching, fielding and hitting a whole lot of heart because, Forbes said, his players have an abundance of it.

“I think when you get to this level here, obviously all of the teams are extremely talented, but this team has shown a lot of heart, and they just have a lot of fight in them,” he said.

If Forbes asked for an, “Amen,” he’d get 24 players to scream it.

Panthers third baseman Dan Hudzina said, “Losing that first game just about killed us,” but he added, “Whatever adversity we faced, we fought back.”

Shortstop Marcus Mooney flashed a sense of humor about Palm Beach taking the longest, hardest road to the title game.

“You know, it was a really weird strategy for us to lose our first game, but we’re all about keeping the fans involved and almost having heart attacks,” Mooney said.

Pitching ace J.D. Underwood, who lost the first Central Alabama game and then won the rematch, said reaching the title game is “definitely deserved. We played our butts off all week, man, and going down in the first game was tough, but we knew we weren’t done yet.”

No one needed to tell Panthers center fielder Mike Stemle the Iowa Western story. He was on the Gordon (Ga.) College team that was the last unbeaten team in the field a year ago until the Reivers routed them.

But he shelved his memory in favor of Forbes’ direction, especially after the Game 1 loss.

“You get back on the bus and you’re like, ‘What do we do now?’ ” Stemle said. “We’ve got a great coach, and he just comes back and says, ‘You guys gotta fight now. You guys are in the losers bracket, you gotta fight. ... And we’ve been fighting, and look at us now, we’re in the championship. So, we’ve gotta keep fighting.”

Mooney, meanwhile, found out about Iowa Western’s accomplishment a couple of days ago.

“It’s pretty sweet,” he said. “I hope it happens twice in a row.”


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