Lee, Norton and CACC are national champions
by Rip Donovan
Special to The Star
Jun 06, 2013 | 3177 views |  0 comments | 87 87 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alex Lee and Matt Norton will be back in Alexander City shortly before noon today but there won’t be any baseball practice for the first time in months. It’s time to celebrate the NJCAA Division I baseball national championship that Norton, Lee and their Central Alabama Community College teammates captured with their 7-3 win over Palm Beach State (Florida) Saturday in Grand Junction, Colorado.

“We’ve got signs up all over the place, banners and signs and stuff like that,” Central Alabama coach Wynn Fletcher said Wednesday afternoon. “There’ll be a parade downtown. We’ll come to the field and the youth programs will be out here. … They’re going to pass out posters and all the kids can come through and get their posters signed by the team. There’ll be a lot of signatures and stuff going on (Thursday).”

Saturday’s final out came when first baseman Lee fielded a ground ball and tossed it to pitcher Paul Young covering first base.

“It wasn’t hit that hard. He got jammed and kind of squibbed it over there to me … I knew it was over off the bat. We make that play every day,” Lee said.

Norton, who had been warming up with Ethan Hunt in the bullpen next to the Trojans’ dugout since the seventh inning, had a perfect view of the play.

“When it came to the ninth inning, we were just out here in case we got in some trouble so I wasn’t really throwing much. I got to watch all the ninth inning,” Norton said. “The other two innings, I was more or less warming up but I got to experience it all. … As soon as the ball was hit I knew we were going to get the out and we were going to be champions.”

Lee was equally confident in Norton, his former Cleburne County High School teammate.

“If Paul would have gotten in any trouble, Matt would have been the first one to come in and get an opportunity to shut everything down,” Lee said. “We’d have put all our money on him.”

Despite struggling with his swing, Lee was on base four times – reaching on errors twice and coaxing two walks. He scored two runs and had a sacrifice bunt in his fifth plate appearance.

“You’ve just got to do what you can to help the team win,” he said.

Norton was one of the first to reach the mound for the traditional dog-pile celebration. Lee wasn’t far behind.

“We dog-piled for about five minutes there and then we all lined up, both teams, and we had the all-tournament team and the awards ceremony,” Lee said.

After the official ceremonies, the Trojans stayed on the field for more than an hour making pictures and signing autographs.

“Right then, it was just one of those moments where you look around and take everything in so you’ll remember it forever,” said Norton. “I still get chill bumps now just thinking about it.”

When the last picture was made and the final autograph signed, the CACC players returned to their bus.

“As soon as everyone got back on the bus to ride back to the hotel, we all kind of just let it out as a team,” Lee recalled. “We really hadn’t had a chance to scream and holler but as soon as we got on that bus and started on the way back to the hotel we let it all out.”

Central Alabama, Cochise College (Arizona) and Palm Beach State each had one loss after Thursday’s play. Having played the most games, Palm Beach got a bye into Saturday’s title game. Central Alabama advanced with a 14-13 win over Cochise in 11 innings Friday. The Trojans scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings. Lee got his only hit of the game in the ninth inning rally. He singled and later scored the third of his team’s four runs.

“I just had to keep myself calm and composed and not trying to do too much. I got a fastball away and I just drove a ground ball through the left side between the 5 and 6 hole,” he said.

Lee said the rally against Cochise convinced him the Trojans would win in their third meeting of the tournament against Palm Beach.

“Scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth and then winning in the eleventh, there was no way we were going to get beat Saturday,” he said.

Central Alabama handed Spartanburg (South Carolina) Methodist its first loss by a 10-5 score on May 29th. Norton started and allowed two runs, both in the first inning, in 4.1 innings on the mound. Lee was 0-for-4 but drove in a run with a seventh inning sacrifice fly.

Fletcher was not surprised with the production he got from his two Cleburne County recruits.

“We were expecting Matt to do fairly well because we were all freshmen on the mound this year. We knew he was going to have an opportunity to throw and throw a lot,” Fletcher said. “Alex, we really didn’t know where he was on starting. We had him at third base in the fall. Soon, about midway in the fall, I just decided, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get the lefthanders in all the time,’ so I got him over at first. From that point on he took over first base and never came off. He switched in-and-out maybe the first two weeks of the season but after that he stayed in there the rest of the time. He was hitting the 5 and 6 hole for us and absolutely tore it up. I don’t know what the stats are right now on either one of them but we wouldn’t have been able to make it without them.”
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Lee, Norton and CACC are national champions by Rip Donovan
Special to The Star

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