Norton, Lee get closer to the title
by Rip Donovan
Special to The Star
May 30, 2013 | 457 views |  0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
They aren’t world series winners, at least not yet, but former Cleburne County High baseball standouts Matt Norton and Alex Lee are a lot closer to the coveted NJCAA Division I baseball title now than they were a week ago. Lee, Norton and their Central Alabama Community College teammates have beaten their first two opponents in the JUCO Division I World Series. Entering their meeting in Wednesday’s late game in Grand Junction, Colorado, Central Alabama (40-13) and Spartanburg Methodist (48-13) were the double-elimination tournament’s only remaining undefeated teams.

“It’s been a great time,” Norton said Tuesday evening. “No matter what, it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m enjoying every bit of it.”

While Trojans coach Wynn Fletcher hadn’t announced the starting pitcher for his team’s third game of the tournament, he was expected to put the ball into the rested Norton’s hands.

CACC opened the tournament Saturday morning with a 6-4 win over Palm Beach State (Florida) then defeated Midland College (Texas) 11-4 in Monday’s late game.

“It’s always good when you beat the No. 6 and No. 1 teams in the country in the first two games,” Lee said. “Hopefully, we can bring home a national championship to Heflin.”

On Saturday it was sunny and 56 degrees at game time and the Palm Beach contest began slowly for the Trojans.

“They started a guy (J.D. Underwood) that’s a (University of) Miami commit and projected to get drafted between the second and fifth rounds of the (Major League Baseball) draft so we really did well against him. He shut us down for the first four innings but we were able to score for the rest of the game, ” Lee said. In the second inning, Lee hit the first pitch he saw for his team’s first hit of the day.

“I hit a line drive right back up the middle,” Lee recalled Tuesday. “I always look for a fast ball early in the count that I can really handle and hit hard and he threw me one over the plate and I was able to hit it right back at him.”

Lee lead off the fifth inning and struck out but reached first when the third strike eluded the Palm Beach catcher.

“Against a guy like that you’ve got to get on any way you can. If they make a mistake, you’ve got to hustle and take advantage of it and get to first base.

That’s what I did. Nobody was hassling me for sure because he struck out probably 10 or 12, maybe more.”

Underwood got two more strikeouts then Lee moved to second base on a passed ball. An RBI single by shortstop Ryan Raspino, the No. 9 hitter, sent Lee home with the first run of the game.

The 1-0 lead didn’t last long as Palm Beach countered with four runs in the bottom of the fifth. The Trojans continued to chip away at Underwood with two runs in the sixth inning. Lee was in the middle of the rally with a one-out single that loaded the bases and won a game of cat-and-mouse with Underwood.

“It was a 1-1 count and he had thrown me a curveball to start me off, a little backdoor curveball. He got it across the plate and then he came at me with a fastball in and it missed low and in,” he said.

“They had been throwing off-speed on a 1-1 count all day and I was looking for a curveball.

He tried to backdoor me again and I kind of went with it. I hit it off the end of the bat but luckily it fell in for a hit. It wasn’t what I wanted to do with it. I wanted to drive it in the gap but I’ll take a little Texas League hit every now and then, especially to keep the order moving and load the bases.”

A walk forced home one run and an RBI single cut the deficit to 4-3. A run in the seventh tied the score at 4-all. Leadoff hitter Darius Reese tripled to drive in the go ahead run for CACC in the eighth and the Trojans added an unearned insurance run in the ninth.

The game ended on a 6-4-3 double play with Lee making a nice stretch at first base to nip the batter.

“I knew there was a quick runner at the plate with plus-plus speed and I needed to make a good stretch to give us a chance to end the game and get us out of there,” he said.

Lee added he “knew automatically” that he and his teammates had turned the double play.

Against Midland College, Central Alabama never trailed. The Trojans again batted as the visitors and scored two runs in the first inning.

With his team ahead 2-1, Lee drove in a run with a two-put single in the third. CACC added four runs in the fourth, three in the fifth and one in the seven. Midland scored once in the second, twice in the fourth and once in the fifth.

For the second consecutive game, an outstanding fielding play by Lee at first base ended the game.

Monday’s Memorial Day attendance was 11,998 for the Central Alabama-Midland game.

“They’re in it from first pitch to last. It’s really electric,” Lee said of the crowds. “Really, I think we’ve won over more fans than any other team, local fans, with our enthusiasm and emotion when we play.” Norton said the Trojans have come to believe in themselves since their arrival in Grand Junction.

“Especially after winning day one against such a good pitcher, winning against a good ball club, it really gave us confidence to know that we belong in this tournament.,” Norton said.
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Norton, Lee get closer to the title by Rip Donovan
Special to The Star

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