Juco baseball | Palm Beach State ace stops SCF just shy of World Series

Palm Beach St. ace blanks Manatees in state title game

jdill@bradenton.comMay 15, 2013 

LAKELAND -- They didn't run out of gas.

They just ran into a buzzsaw.

That buzzsaw was J.D. Underwood, the Florida pitcher of the year.

Even without a dominant fastball, Underwood was too much for State College of Florida in Tuesday's FCSAA state championship game at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Consequently, Underwood and the Palm Beach State College Panthers celebrated a state title with a 3-0 victory over SCF.

"I think he knows how to pitch," SCF head coach Tim Hill II said of Underwood. "I think he threw at least three pitches for strikes. ... I just thought he had good stuff. I hate to see him when his fastball was working, because I thought his stuff was pretty good."

Underwood was named the tournament's most outstanding pitcher, with teammate Ryan Church tabbed the tourney's best player.

It was quite a feat for Palm Beach, which entered the tourney as the No. 6 seed.

Yet the Panthers (38-19) won three consecutive games before dropping a contest Monday to Chipola. They returned Tuesday to best the Manatees and book a spot in the JUCO World Series to be held later this month in Grand Junction, Colo.

To do so, the Panthers chipped a run off SCF's Ben Ancheff in the bottom of the fourth inning before gaining two late insurance runs.

However, that one run was all Underwood needed in tossing his second complete game of the tournament.

"When it's a 1-0 game,

you've got to bear down and hit your spots," Underwood said. "Luckily, I was able to do that and throw everything for a strike."

Earlier on Tuesday, Braden River alum Dalton Busby rapped an RBI single to lift SCF past Chipola 3-2 in 12 innings and into the championship game.

The Indians rallied late for two runs to tie the game and force extra innings, but the Manatees tallied the game-winner with Busby's hit.

"Teams like that, they do not come around very often," Hill II said about his team's resiliency. "The chemistry is awesome. They're great students. They're so much fun to be around, and they're great players. And I think they showed their character that a lot of teams when they lose that first game you can say, 'Oh geez, this is going to be too tough.'"

In the championship game, Underwood logged only two strikeouts and surrendered nine hits.

But the right-hander mixed his arsenal of pitches well enough, coupled with three double-play balls, to avoid any real danger.

"That's why they call them a pitcher's best friend," Underwood said. "I think we had one or two (double plays) to end the inning. The other one ... just broke down the momentum. We were able to shut it down after that."

Although the Manatees trailed 3-0 in the top of the ninth inning, they brought the tying run to the plate.

Underwood stepped it up a notch and retired Busby to end the threat and game.

"I think he tuned it up a notch when he had to, to keep us from scoring," Hill II said. "... If you saw (Underwood's) last at-bat, he just stood up there and said, 'You know what? It doesn't matter, I got a run, that's all I need.' And we've had those type of pitchers before, and we've got them on this club right now."

Hill II's club will lose some key pieces to this year's club that earned a Suncoast Conference championship and the No. 2 seed at the state tournament.

They include LSU-bound Connor Hale, Florida-bound Orlando Rivera, No. 1 starting pitcher Robby Kalaf and Ancheff (the club's No. 2 starter).

Hale (2-for-4) and Rivera (2-for-3) had multiple hit games for the Manatees against Underwood.

In Tuesday's first game, the club's offense was led by Rivera (2-for-5, two runs), Jarred Smith (2-for-5, RBI), Julian Santos (2-for-6, RBI) and Hale (double).

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