Central Alabama wins school's first JUCO title
Blaine Miller flopped face-first on the grass between home plate and the pitcher’s mound.
The traditional championship dog pile came seconds later, gloves tossed high in the air.
Two players made baseball’s version of snow angels on the infield grass.
Handsprings, cartwheels and bear hugs followed the Central Alabama Community College baseball team’s first Alpine Bank Junior College World Series championship Saturday night, 7-3 over Palm Beach State (Fla.) College at Suplizio Field.
Their coach, Wynn Fletcher, stood back and took it all in as his players pulled on championship T-shirts, almost amazed at what they accomplished less than 24 hours after winning a 4 1/2-hour thriller to get to the title game.
“I had nothing today,” Fletcher said. “I have been in sleep mode; I’ve been awake, but everything’s been so flat-lined all day. It probably helped our team because I wasn’t running up and down the dugout barking at everybody. I just sat back tonight and called the plays and let it happen.
“I was confident we were going to give them a good game, but I didn’t know what we had left in the tank (after a 14-13, 11-inning win over Cochise College on Friday). Obviously we had enough. They were a little flat-lined at practice today, and I thought, ‘Uh-oh.’ They told me, ‘Coach, we’re fine, we just want to get to the game and let it all hang out.’ And they did.”
Miller’s RBI double in the second inning seemed to snap the Trojans out of any kind of haze they might have been in, answering the Panthers’ first-inning run off Paul Young. Miller came around to score on Ryan Raspino’s base hit to left.
Palm Beach (42-20) took a 3-2 lead in the third, but Central Alabama (43-14), ranked eighth in the final NJCAA poll, got the run back in the bottom of the inning.
Tied 3-3 in the fourth, the emotion of the game turned when, with Raspino at second after a base hit and wild pitch, Darius Reese hit a grounder behind second base.
Shortstop Marcus Mooney fielded the ball and threw out Reese on a bang-bang play. Fletcher came out to argue the call, and after the four infield umpires conferred, it was overturned, awarding Fletcher the base.
“This time of year, it’s heated. Everybody’s trying to win,” Fletcher said, explaining he saw Ryan Church’s foot come off the bag and Reese hitting the base before Church’s foot returned. “I didn’t do anything out of disrespect, I just wanted to get the call right. We were confident they had made the wrong call.”
The Panthers were emotionally charged after that call, and a balk in the sixth inning called on Jose Lazaro allowed Reese to score. Lazaro also threw a wild pitch to score Miller earlier in the inning.
However, Palm Beach couldn’t push any more runs across against Young, who scattered seven hits, striking out five and walking three in the complete-game performance.
“I just feel like we took advantage of momentum,” Young said. “We hit the ball well tonight and put the ball in play ... and great defense.
“I was having trouble locating my fastball early. We went to my curveball, and once we got that working, it seemed like the fastball started locating better.”
Young, only a freshman, also seemed a bit dazed after the game.
“It hasn’t set in yet,” he said.
After losing to Palm Beach only two days prior — Saturday was their third meeting in the tournament — the Trojans came out determined to win what, in effect, became a best-of-three series.
“We came out and played like we know how to play, with a lot of confidence,” Miller said. “Not necessarily anger, but a will to win. After winning the first one and losing the second one, we had to come out and win the third one. We came out and got the job done. They’re a good team. I guess we did things a little bit better.”
Central Alabama added two insurance runs in the seventh.
Reese, selected the Preston Walker Most Valuable Player, went 3 for 5 and Miller 3 for 4, scoring all three times he got on base.
Reese also made a spectacular diving catch in right-center in the ninth inning for the first out.
“I looked at my teammate (right fielder) Bo Edwards, and he looked at me, and I realized I’ve got to take charge of this ball here,” he said. “I kind of lost it in the lights, but it fell in my glove.”
The Trojans lingered on the field for a good hour after the final out, dancing, singing and snapping pictures with family members. And as the final few stragglers reluctantly left, signing one more autograph, a couple stopped at third base.
They squatted down, one scooping up a bit of dirt from the infield, the other tugging on blades of grass, just one more souvenir.
“It’s a life-long memory that I’ll always remember and so will the other guys,” Miller said. “We’ll always remember each other from this week.”