Pressure performer

Midland's Palacios shuts down Chargers' final rally

Midland’s Blaine Prescott, 11, and Chris Thibideau, 15, wait at home plate to greet Chris Shaw, 23, after Shaw’s two-run home run Tuesday in the third inning of the Chaparrals’ 10-7 victory over Columbia State. Shaw’s second two-run blast scored Prescott and gave Midland a 9-3 lead.

The Chargers’ Paul Kirby looks at a low pitch as Midland’s Chris Shaw reaches to catch it in the Chaparral’s 10-7 victory Tuesday at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series at Suplizio Field. Columbia State had a chance to tie the game in the ninth inning, but the Chaps’ Sebastian Palacios kept the Chargers off the board.

Sebastian Palacios has been pitching with a hop in his delivery all of his life. Keeping Midland College’s championship dreams alive by closing out games is a more recent phenomenon.

The author of a critical save during the district tournament delivered for the Chaparrals again in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series on Tuesday, earning the save in the Texas school’s 10-7 win over Columbia State Community College (Tennessee) in an elimination game.

Palacios slammed the door on the Chargers’ charge in the eighth inning after Columbia State (46-13) pulled within 10-7 on a two-run home run by No. 1 hitter Wes Neiderland. After Chaparrals reliever Clay O’Dell walked the next batter, Midland coach David Coleman sent the right-handed Palacios to the mound.

Palacios struck out the first two batters he faced, then induced a groundout to the second baseman to end the inning. In the ninth, he struck out the leadoff batter and got the next batter to fly out.

But he created some hope for the Chargers when he walked the Nos. 8 and 9 batters, the former on a full count and the latter on four pitches, bringing Neiderland back to the plate.

He got two strikes on the left-handed Neiderland, who then fouled off the third pitch. Then, Palacios got Neiderland to swing at and miss the next offering, which the catcher dropped but threw down to first base for the final out.

With the pressure high in both innings, Palacios turned to words from one of Major League Baseball’s all-time great managers, Tony LaRussa, the speaker at the JUCO banquet Friday night.

“The other night at the banquet, I heard Tony LaRussa say, ‘Make love to the pressure,’ ” Palacios said. “Ever since that, I’ve been thinking of that. We had kind of a similar situation in the regional tournament, so I was just trying not to put too much on myself. I just went in there and tried to do my own thing and let my catcher do his thing and call the pitches and be successful.”

Each pitch came with a hop in his delivery, which Palacios said he’s had his whole life.

“It’s just trying to incorporate using more of your legs. It just developed into something like that,” said Palacios, who entered the tournament with a 3.42 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings. “It’s just stuck with me my whole life, and it’s thrown off batters, and it’s always been good for me. My velocity jumped when I started actually using my legs a lot more.”

Columbia State coach Mike Corn said his players have seen pitchers with a hop in their delivery before and he doubted it affected the Chargers’ hitters.

“I just think the slider was hard, and it was sharp,” Corn said. “He did a fantastic job after walking (No 9 hitter Caleb) Patterson there on four pitches. … He just really responded.”

Early in the game, it didn’t appear the Chaparrals (43-24) would need any late-game heroics. They bashed the ball at the outset, scoring five runs in the first inning with a home run and two doubles among their six hits.

They added two runs in the second inning and two more in the third, taking a 9-3 lead and threatening to end the game early with the run rule. Leading the way was catcher and cleanup hitter Chris Shaw, who had a breakout game, hitting a pair of two-run home runs and finishing the game 4 for 4 with a walk.

The Chargers made sure the game went all nine innings, though, picking up a run in the fourth and another in the seventh. Then came the eighth, when a fired-up Columbia State dugout seemed to fuel the Chargers’ hitters.

Coleman had some fun in the postgame news conference when asked what was going through his mind after Neiderland’s home run.

He started with, “Do you want the truth?” Then, he said he was thinking, ” ‘Oh crap, what a cruel way to lose a game this is going to be.’ … No, I’m just kidding. But, no, I really was. I thought, ‘Man, this is really cruel. I hope we can hold on, and I hope Sebastian can answer the bell like he did last week in the regional.’

“And when he went out and threw his eight warm-up pitches, and he was aggressive, and they were all strikes, and the slider was going, I did feel a little bit more comfortable.”

As for Columbia State’s attempt to rally in the ninth, Coleman added, “When the tying run came to the plate in the ninth, Neiderland, who had hit the two-run homer, who is an exceptional player and had a great World Series, yeah, I was a little puckered up a little bit there.”

The reward for Tuesday’s victory is a day off for Midland, which will play again in the Thursday night game against the tourney’s remaining unbeaten team.


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