Third time a charm?

Rubber match between Palm Beach State and Central Alabama will decide title

J.D. Underwood and the Palm Beach State (Fla.) College Panthers will have to beat Central Alabama a second time to win the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series title.

Ryan Church is one of the key players in tonight’s game for Palm Beach State (Fla.) College, hitting .476 with nine RBI in five games at the JUCO World Series.

They played in the first game of the tournament a full week ago, but it might seem like yesterday to Central Alabama Community College and Palm Beach (Fla.) State College.

Tonight, they’ll meet in the final game of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, with a championship on the line.

Just for good measure, they also played Thursday night.

Central Alabama won the opener, a tight 6-4 decision. Palm Beach won the runaway on Thursday, 13-4, to get Friday night off.

And after the Trojans won a 4-hour, 35-minute marathon on Friday, 14-13 in 11 innings over Cochise (Ariz.) College, they’re ready for game No. 3.

“It’s gonna be a high-intensity game, I know that for sure,” said Central Alabama’s Ben Hall, who delivered the game-winning hit in the 11th. “Neither one of us wants to go home the loser. It’ll be a fun game to watch.”

Paul Young, who got the save in the first game against Palm Beach, will start the game for Central Alabama. Palm Beach will counter with Ryan Pistey, who got the win in a 7-1 decision over Kaskaskia (Ill.) College.

Palm Beach was “a little discombobulated,” coach Kyle Forbes said of the 6-4 loss to Central Alabama in the first game of the tournament. “Part of that is because Central Alabama is very good and we made some uncharacteristic errors.

“It was a combination of things, the whole stadium setup, but we were a little jet-lagged. Our state tournament was a three-hour drive. We weren’t used to it.”

By playing every day until their first day off on Wednesday, though, the Panthers got used to it.

“Yeah, we’ve been here for a week and a day,” pitcher/DH J.D. Underwood said Thursday. “It’s home now.”

Palm Beach reached the title game on grit, winning two extra-inning games in the elimination round, 15-9 over Navarro (Texas) College in its third game, then a 7-6 thriller over Midland (Texas) College to finally earn a day off.

“The group has poise,” Forbes said. “The leaders of this club, they are mature kids, they’re good players, and honestly, our freshmen, third, short and second, I think they’ve played extremely well. I think they’ve shown maturity beyond their years.”

Marcus Mooney, the Panthers’ young shortstop, has handled 23 chances without a hitch and is hitting .440, third on the team. Dan Hudzina plays third, with two errors in 21 chances, and Brett Lashley, at second, has only one error in 34 chances.

After scoring four runs — all in the fifth inning — in the first game against Central Alabama, the Panthers have outscored their past four opponents 42-20.

“You look at the first game, we only scored four runs,” Underwood said. “After that we scored seven and every game after that has been double digits. That first game we were a little nervous and we know we didn’t play to our capability. After that we were just able to bear down.”

As for the Trojans, who left 17 men on base Friday night, including the bases loaded in the eighth inning, they scratched back into it with a four-run ninth, then got the clutch opposite-field base hit by Hall, who twice saw Darius Reese walked intentionally ahead of him.

“How about my kids? Have you ever seen anybody fight like that to get back in it?” Central Alabama coach Wynn Fletcher said. “They wanted to be here. I’m just so happy for them.”

And how does it feel to play for a national championship? Well, Fletcher summed it up in three words:

“Pretty dang good.”

A look at some of the key players tonight:

Palm Beach

Ryan Pistey, SP: The sophomore right-hander is 1-0 with a complete-game performance against Kaskaskia (Ill.) College in the Panthers’ second game. He struck out three and walked four.

Ryan Church, 1B: The Panthers’ big sophomore first baseman enters the title game hitting .476 with a team-high nine RBI.

Mike Stemle, CF: The transfer from Gordon (Ga.) College played in last year’s JUCO World Series. He’s hitting .440 with six RBI.

J.D. Underwood, DH: He can concentrate on hitting tonight after pitching the Panthers into the title game. He’s driven in seven runs, hitting .238.

Central Alabama

Paul Young, SP: The freshman outfielder became a pitcher midway through the season, and is 1-0 with a save in the tournament so far. He went the distance in an 11-4 win over Midland (Texas) in the Trojans’ second game and picked up the save against Palm Beach in the opener.

Darius Reese, CF: He sets the table for Central Alabama in the leadoff spot. He went 4 for 5 with a double and triple Friday. He’s hitting .542, has three RBI and is 4 for 4 on stolen base attempts.

Ben Hall, 2B: All season, he’s seen pitchers walk Reese to get to him, and Friday he came through with the winning hit. He’s hitting .381 with 11 RBI to lead the Trojans.

Blaine Miller, C: The sophomore not only handles the pitching staff, he blocks just about everything, and he’s hitting .522 with five RBI and three doubles.


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