What a relief!

Lazaro cools Navarro bats, allows Palm Beach to stay alive at JUCO

Palm Beach State (Fla.) College’s Mark Babrick slides safely into home plate under the tag attempt by Navarro (Texas) College catcher John Clay Reeves during the eighth inning of Monday’s second-round elimination game at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

Palm Beach State (Fla.) College’s Jon Corbitt belts a two-run triple in the 10th inning of Monday’s 15-9 win over Navarro (Texas) College.

Navarro (Texas) College’s bats were booming — loudly and frequently.

Once the Bulldogs figured out Palm Beach State (Fla.) College starter Bryan Coughlin in the middle innings, they started banging the ball to the wall, off the wall and over the wall.

With four doubles and three home runs among its 11 hits in the third through sixth innings, Navarro stormed back from deficits of 4-0 and 6-2 to take a 9-6 lead. The Bulldogs had all of the momentum, and it looked like Navarro (44-17) would survive Monday’s second-round elimination game at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

But the tide-turner the Panthers needed emerged from their bullpen with two outs in the sixth. Jose Lazaro, a recent convert to relief pitching, silenced the Bulldog bats the rest of the way, and Palm Beach (40-20) rallied, first to tie the game and force extra innings, then to win it 15-9 with a six-run outburst in the 10th inning.

“We were down three, they had all of the momentum, and we brought in Jose Lazaro, and he pitched magnificent,” Palm Beach coach Kyle Forbes said. “He just threw up zeroes against an unbelievable, talented club, gave us a chance.

“When he came in we’re like, ‘Hey, just keep us right here,’ and he did. And then we had a nice inning there at the end, so it was all keyed by him coming in and keeping them where they were run-wise.”

Lazaro threw 4 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit and walking two batters. He struck out six batters, including four on called-third strikes, and five strikeouts came in the final two innings, when he retired the side in order in both frames.

“Man, when that kid throws strikes, he can pitch in the big leagues,” Palm Beach cleanup hitter Ryan Church said. “And today he threw strikes, and I bet you ask any of those guys from Texas, I bet you they’re going to say he can throw in the big leagues. I mean when you’re getting it up to 93 (mph), and then you’re throwing that slider, not many guys are going to hit it, that’s for damn sure.”

Lazaro said he wasn’t thinking about strikeouts. Rather, he wanted to throw strikes and let the Panthers’ defense make the plays. For his first two innings, that’s what happened, including a pair of 6-4-3 double plays to end the seventh and eighth innings.

“I’ve seen some balls flying out of here through the tournament, and I just wanted to locate my pitches — fastball, curveball, slider, changeup — and just throw strikes, let my teammates make some plays,” Lazaro said. “I don’t think I got a strikeout in the first two innings. They were just hitting to my teammates, and my teammates made some plays. They deserve a lot of that credit.”

Actually, the second batter he faced, the first batter in the seventh inning, looked at a third strike. Eventually, Lazaro did that to three more Bulldogs.

“Once I started locating my fastball, everything started clicking,” Lazaro said. “My curveball, my slider, my changeup were all there, except my fastball at the beginning. But once I started locating my fastball, I felt pretty comfortable, and I didn’t think I was going to get hit pretty hard.”

If it had been a night game, the fans could have heard the crickets chirping instead of the Navarro bats pinging in the ninth and 10th innings. The only real noise in the last four innings came from the Panthers in the eighth and 10th innings.

No. 9 hitter Mark Babrick started a one-out rally with a walk in the eighth. Mike Stemle followed with a double that ricocheted off the left-field wall to plate Babrick, and an out later, J.D. Underwood singled for his sixth RBI of the tourney.

Then, Church, who went 5 for 5, singled home Underwood with an infield hit to shortstop, tying the game.

In the 10th, after Lazaro struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth, Palm Beach ended the game with an exclamation point.

With runners on first and second, Church hit a ball off the base of the center-field wall, but it was only a single because the runners had to wait to make sure the ball didn’t get caught. It still plated Marcus Mooney from second for what proved to be the winning run.

The Panthers, however, scored five more, including two when Navarro’s center fielder lost Jon Corbitt’s fly ball in the sun, and it carried to the wall in left-center for a triple.

“This whole year, we’ve had to battle back, and that was a pretty large deficit, three runs,” Corbitt said. “But we know that we can swing the bat. It’s to the last out, we battle. And we don’t want to go home, plain and simple.”


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