Posted: 5:17 pm Friday, May 31st, 2013
By Matt Porter
In the loser’s bracket no longer, Palm Beach State is one step away from winning it all.
After a tournament-opening loss, the Panthers won four games in five days to advance to Saturday’s championship game of the double-elimination National Junior College Athletics Association Division I World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. They advanced to the final after Thursday’s 13-4 win over Central Alabama, the team that dealt them a 6-4 loss last Saturday.
“It shows the heart these kids have,” PBSC coach Kyle Forbes said. “The loser’s bracket is extremely tough. Lose one more and you’re out.”
PBSC (42-20) took a 3-0 lead in the first inning and finished the game in eight innings due to a mercy rule. Ace right-hander J.D. Underwood, of Palm Beach Gardens, threw a complete game and allowed four runs on nine hits, striking out seven. His two-run double in the first put the Panthers up 2-0.
Every PBSC player had a hit and scored a run. Center fielder Mike Stemle (Park Vista), shortstop Marcus Mooney (Seminole Ridge) and second baseman Brett Lashley (Park Vista) had three hits each. Stemle was 3-for-5 with three RBI and three runs scored.
In Saturday’s national championship game, PBSC will sent right-hander Ryan Pistey (Park Vista) to face the winner of Friday’s Chochise (Ariz.) -Central Alabama game. (UPDATE: it’s Central Alabama.) The game can be viewed live at 9 p.m. ET at iHigh.com/NJCAATV.
Palm Beach State, which advanced to the World Series for the first time after winning its first state title since 1984, could become only the fifth junior college national champion from Florida. The others are Miami-Dade (1964 and 1981), Hillsborough (1988) and Chipola (2007). “We’re experiencing it now,” Forbes said. “It’s a tough tournament to win.”
Since they lost their opening game, the Panthers had to play four days in a row. Three of the games began at 10 a.m. MT or before, forcing the team to rise for 7 a.m. batting practices. But the Panthers earned two days off in the final four days of the tournament.
They made the most of their time. On Wednesday, the group mostly-Florida-born players, some of whom had never boarded a plane before this trip, ascended to the top of Grand Mesa, which rises to more than 11,000 feet. It was chilly and snowy up there in the sky, a setting wholly opposite to the tropical beaches of South Florida.
They adjusted quickly, of course. They had a snowball fight.
“They are having an absolute blast here,” Forbes said. “Hopefully we can continue having fun for one more day.”