Posted: 5:28 pm Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
By Matt Porter
Coming off a fourth-place finish in 2011, Palm Beach State baseball coach Kyle Forbes entered this year without expectations.
Then his team started 2-0, with a pair wins over the last two junior college state champions.
“Right out of the gate, we knew this team had a chance to do well,” Forbes said.
The Panthers (35-14) won the Southern Conference and are now a contender to win their first state title since 1984, when future major leaguer Dante Bichette was blasting homers at the school’s Lake Worth campus.
They face Central Florida at 1 p.m. Thursday at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland in the double elimination, eight-team Florida College System Activities Association Region 8 tournament. The winner of the May 7 championship heads to the NJCAA Division I World Series, which begins May 26 in Grand Junction, Colo.
The player who has surpassed Forbes’ expectations the most is freshman J.D. Underwood, a Palm Beach Gardens alum and one of 21 players on the roster who played at area high schools.
The son of former major league pitcher Tom Underwood, Underwood was named the Southern Conference player of the year after going 6-1 as a pitcher and batting .372 as an everyday first baseman.
Shortstop Alex Hernandez (Palm Beach Central), who transferred from North Florida before the season and recently signed with Miami, was named defensive player of the year. Forbes earned coach of the year honors.
On Wednesday, Underwood was named first-team All-State along with freshman Ryan Church (Santaluces), who led the league in homers (11) and RBI (52) while playing several positions, and sophomore catcher Sal Giardina.
Underwood began the year as a closer, but Forbes felt his repertoire — command of a fastball that touches 93, a biting curve and a sharp slider — was too good to keep in the bullpen. Now like many who play at The Beach, he’s improved his stock with Division I colleges and pro scouts.
“His future is unbelievable,” Forbes said. “He’s got a chance to be an impact player.”