Winter Garden, FL - Four unearned runs on four errors sank the ship for the Leesburg Lightning (18-6) as they struggled at the plate and in the field in a 5-2 loss to the Winter Garden Squeeze (11-12).
"We were just sloppy tonight, we didn't come out ready to play defense," Lightning head coach Rich Billings said after the game, voicing his displeasure with his team's effort in the field. "You're not going to win many ballgames when you play defense like that."
The Squeeze raced ahead with two runs on three errors in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back. With one out and the bases loaded, Winter Garden left fielder Luke Reidy (Rollins) sent a ground ball to the third baseman Jay Prather (North Florida), but Prather missed first baseman Sean Mootrey (Georgia Gwinnett) with the throw, allowing all the runners to advance 90 feet. Mootrey, trying to salvage at least one out on the play, threw the ball back to Prather as Sadler Goodwin (Troy) headed towards third. Mootrey's throw sailed over the head of the 5'8 Prather though, allowing Goodwin to score.
The Lightning got on the board in the very next inning thanks to a Tanner May (North Florida) solo home run, his fourth big fly of the season. After the lead-off home run, the Lightning failed to get anything going at the plate in the remainder of the second and all the way through the seventh inning.
Another error led the way for Winter Garden to add three more runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 5-1 lead. Leesburg starting pitcher Hunter Caudelle (Georgia Gwinnett) finished with five runs allowed (one earned) on six hits and four strikeouts through six innings.
Down 5-1 in the top of the eighth, Ja'Kobi Dasher (Flagler) hit a two-out single with Luke Brown (Western Kentucky) on first base, and pitcher Michael D'Emo (Palm Beach State) threw the ball away, allowing Brown to score and Dasher to advance to second. Leesburg's best rally chance ended with new roster addition Matthew Wiseman (San Jacinto) fouling out to right field, ending his debut with an 0-4 stat line.
"I think he needs to see some pitching, needs to get some at-bats and needs to get to know the guys a little bit. I think he's going to do well with us," coach Billings said of Wiseman, who will look to improve on his less than stellar start in Leesburg's next game. "You're going to see a good defensive third baseman when he gets out there on defense and you're going to see him barrel some balls up. It was probably nerves a little bit tonight in his first game, he's going to be an exciting player to watch though."
This game marks the first contest of the second half of the Florida League season, and although the Lightning didn't start the back end of the schedule off the way they would like, Billings knows that offense will be key the rest of the way. "We have to keep scoring runs and continue to be an offensive team. We have to continue to get good starting pitching as well," he explained. "If we get good pitching and continue to score a lot of runs then we're going to be okay and we're going to beat a lot of teams. I'd like to see us clean up the defense a bit as well, but if we do those things then you'll see us continue to have success." The Lightning are currently 1st in the league in team ERA (3.27) and runs per game (7.3).
Leesburg and Winter Garden will face again on Tuesday night at Pat Thomas Stadium, first pitch is set for 7 p.m.
Matt Holzapfel (Elon University)