Photo by Bob Snow/Leesburg Lightning
WINTER GARDEN -- It only took nine innings, five pitchers and one big at bat.
The Leesburg Lightning opened their season on the road against the Winter Garden Squeeze after a 45-minute rain delay Friday night. Jarred Neal, winner of the Florida Collegiate Summer League’s Cy Young award in 2016, toed the rubber for the Squeeze for four innings and allowed the lightning to strike first when a wild pitch put plated one of two runners in scoring position.
The pitch gave Leesburg a 1-0 lead – one they would hold on to for five more innings.
Lightning starter Mike Ruff tossed four scoreless innings with five strikeouts before Tucker Smith took over in the fifth. The tying run was plated under Dominic Jeancola, who escaped the sixth with one run, one hit and one left on base. Ben Berggren followed.
Berggren stepped in for a third of an inning before being replaced by Tyler Parry.
“Bases were loaded,” Parry said. “I hit the first guy that I faced. I came inside on him with a fastball just a little too far in but after that I just kept pounding the strike zone.”
He struck out three and allowed only one hit in 1.2 innings.
Still down 2-1 and heading into the ninth, the Lightning needed to rally.
Alec Larue entered in the top of the inning for the Squeeze, issuing a leadoff walk to Peyton Faulkner before Alex Ray pinch-hit in the No. 2 slot and laid down a perfect bunt to follow Faulkner down the base path. Right fielder Cage Cox was walked and the Squeeze’s Nick Niarchos replaced Larue.
But then, Michael Koenig stepped up to the plate.
“Doug [Teegarden] told me that [Niarchos] been throwing his fastball to the last batter but he threw it the majority of his pitches – so he told me just to hunt the fastball,” Koenig said. “He threw me a first pitch fastball and I fouled it off. I knew he was coming back with it, so I just sat on it and put a good swing on it.”
That good swing resulted in a 3 RBI double for the Lightning veteran, which secured a 5-2 lead that would eventually win the contest.
Allain closed the ninth with a three up, three down final inning.
“[The win] was kind of by committee and it’s probably going to be like that the first couple games as we get our entire pitching staff here – we’re still missing a couple guys,” Lightning head coach Rich Billings said. “It’s just to get guys out there and get them innings.”
The Lightning will host their home opener on Saturday, June 3 at 7 p.m. against the Squeeze at Pat Thomas Stadium in Leesburg.
Emily Shoffit (Auburn University)