Reese's 8th-inning triple lifts Central Alabama past Palm Beach
Darius Reese hustled to first base after drilling a shot to deep center field in the top of the eighth inning.
Then he waited, expecting to see the ball drop into the opposing center fielder’s glove. Instead, the ball sailed over Mike Stemle’s head, and the speedy Reese kicked in the turbos, motoring all the way to third for a run-scoring triple to give Central Alabama a 5-4 lead over Palm Beach (Fla.) State College on Saturday in the opening game of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
“I was going to stop, at first but I saw the center fielder just standing there,” Reese said with a smile.
One play prior, Stemle flashed his defensive brilliance with a great catch before slamming into the center-field wall.
That shining play was erased by the shining sun on Reese’s shot, and Stemle stood helplessly in center after he lost the flight of the ball.
The Trojans added a run in the ninth and defeated the Panthers 6-4.
“That ball was hit in the gap pretty well, and our center fielder lost it off the bat,” Palm Beach coach Kyle Forbes said about the play. “We thought (Stemle) could have a chance at it, but he just lost it off the bat. I thought that was a big momentum play.”
The strange play was one of several in a game that was well-played at times and bizarre on other occasions.
Central Alabama third baseman B.J. Martin made a number of stellar defensive plays in the game, including gunning down Stemle at the plate in the first inning. But at the plate Martin made an impact with his left shoulder. He was hit there with a pitch in the sixth and ninth innings and came around to score both times.
After Panthers’ catcher Jon Corbitt drilled a two-run home run in the fifth, Palm Beach had a 4-1 lead with its ace, J.D. Underwood, on the mound.
“We’re a young group. We just had to stay positive and stay confident,” said Martin, who is one of only seven sophomores on the roster.
It was truly a team effort by the young Trojans. They had five different players with an RBI, and five different players scored runs.
The game was well-pitched through four innings, with Underwood and Central Alabama’s John Michael Knighton in control. In the third, it was six up and six down with Underwood getting two strikeouts and Knighton striking out the side.
Central Alabama took a 1-0 lead in the strange fifth inning. Underwood struck out three in the inning, but Alex Lee reached on a third strike after swinging at a wild pitch in the dirt. Underwood then struck out the next two, but Lee advanced on a wild pitch on the second strikeout. He scored on Ryan Raspino’s single.
The Panthers came right back with four runs in the bottom of the fifth on Corbitt’s blast and a two-run single from Ryan Church.
“We had the momentum there at 4-1,” Forbes said. “(Ethan Hunt) came in and did a nice job of throwing up some zeroes.”
The bullpen for both teams was the key, according to Central Alabama coach Wynn Fletcher.
“Ethan Hunt came in and did a good job and got us back in it,” he said. “I felt like if we could get (Underwood) out of there and get to the pen, we’d be OK.”
Hunt threw three scoreless innings to get the win.
Underwood struggled in the sixth and walked in a run, but he got out of trouble with an inning-ending double play. He gave up 10 hits over seven innings with eight strikeouts.
The Trojans kept chipping away at the lead, scoring two runs in the sixth and one run in each of the final three innings.
Reese went 3 for 5 with an RBI and scored a run.
Palm Beach mounted a minor threat in the eighth. After a walk, Shawn Smirnoff replaced Hunt and threw only one pitch. Matt Mulroy ripped a hot shot to the hot corner, but Martin was up to the task, knocking down the ball and rifling a perfect throw for the third out.
In the ninth, Central Alabama ended the game with a 6-4-3 double play.
Palm Beach plays Kaskaskia (Ill.) College today at 10 a.m. The loser will be eliminated from the tournament.
Central Alabama (39-13), which is ranked eighth in the nation, next plays fifth-ranked Midland (Texas) College on Monday at 7:30 p.m.