Palm Beach pride: Panthers fall short in bid for national title

The start of Saturday’s game had the earmarks of previous victories by Palm Beach State (Fla.) College at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

The team scored in the first inning. When Central Alabama Community College responded with two runs to take the lead, the Panthers came back with two runs to reclaim the lead.

But once Trojans starting pitcher Paul Young got comfortable on the mound, Palm Beach State wasn’t itself the rest of the way. Young blanked the Panthers over the final six innings, and Central Alabama claimed the national title with a 7-3 win.

It left Palm Beach just short of becoming the second straight JUCO champion to lose Game 1 of the tournament and come back to win it all.

“I give the credit to Central Alabama. I think they’re a great team,” Panthers coach Kyle Forbes said. “They are worthy of being national champions. We struggled tonight, but a lot of that was due to their great talent.”

Young’s talent surfaced after allowing three runs on four hits in the first three innings. He scattered three hits the rest of the way.

“He has a Major League arm, wonderful command and was outstanding tonight,” Forbes said. “He had a combination of good velocity and good location. He went right at us. You just have to tip your cap. He pitched a great game.”

A couple of calls by the umpires went against the Panthers. They responded well to the first one. The second one was costly.

In the fourth inning, Central Alabama’s Darius Reese was called out at first base on a close play. However, after a conference by the umpires, they reversed the call, giving Reese an infield hit. Reese then stole second base to put runners and second and third with no outs.

Palm Beach, however, responded by snaring two line drives, one to the first baseman and one to the third baseman. Then, a groundout to the second baseman got the Panthers out of the inning unharmed.

The next umpire’s call, though, cost the Panthers, as a balk was called against Jose Lazaro, scoring Reese from third base to give the Trojans a 5-3 lead.

Forbes said he would not comment about the umpiring.

But he said his team’s defense after Reese was awarded the single was characteristic of his team.

“We have great kids, tremendous heart,” he said. “It’s a team I’m very proud to be associated with. We came up short tonight, but it’s a team that has a lot of grit, and I was very proud of them.”

Uncharacteristic, though, were the four errors on the scoreboard at the end.

“Us avoiding those mistakes has gotten us this far, and tonight we made some mistakes, and that was unfortunate,” Forbes said.

Forbes said the loss hurts, but when he and his players look back, they’ll remember a great season.

“It stings right now. They’re very, very broken-hearted right now,” Forbes said. “But what I tell them is they’re the most successful baseball team in the history of our college. We’re the first team to come to this World Series. Only two teams at our college have won the state title like we did, and I’m extremely proud of them. That’s what I’ll tell them.”

Panthers designated hitter J.D. Underwood added, “This is the greatest team I’ve ever played for. We were a family, and it’s tough that we couldn’t win the final game of the season. Hat’s off to (Central Alabama). They did a great job.

“Palm Beach will definitely be back next year. That’s for sure.”


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