Leesburg, FL – Walk-off hit? Check. Wild pitch? Got it. Walk-off error? That’s a new one. Tanner Clark (North Florida) beat out a ground ball that was bobbled by Diamond Dawgs first baseman Jacob Teter (Florida Southern) and the Leesburg Lightning (19-6) escaped with a 7-6 win over Winter Park (10-14).
The Lightning used a couple of two-out hits to take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning, starting with a walk by Sean Mootrey (Georgia Gwinnett). Tanner Clark followed up the free pass with a single to right field, and a bobble by Winter Park shortstop Alex Jackson (Wichita State) allowed Luke Brown (Western Kentucky) to reach first safely and Mootrey to score.
The Diamond Dawgs scored one run in both the third and fourth innings, capitalizing on a couple of Lightning errors and a big RBI double by Chandler Robertson (UCF) to take a 2-1 lead.
Leesburg only trailed for just over an inning, however, as they pushed two runs across the plate in the bottom of the fifth. Jake Matulia (Flagler) and Jose Crisostomo (Miami Dade) both displayed outstanding hustle to start the inning, reaching on a pair of back-to-back infield singles. A double steal turned into disaster for Winter Park when Matulia stole third and third baseman Abraham Sequera (North Florida) couldn’t handle the throw from catcher Ryan Watson (Winthrop), allowing Matulia to score and Crisostomo to advance to third. Jay Prather’s (North Florida) single to center field allowed Crisostomo to score, making it 3-2 in favor of the home team.
“It just gets us going,” Lightning Head Coach Rich Billings said of Jose and Jake’s hustle plays. “There’s a lot of ways that we can create runs and get on base and when you have guys in your lineup that can run like that it helps. They’re exciting guys to watch and they play hard and they executed right there.”
Winter Park threatened to blow the game open after loading the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh, but they only managed one run to tie the game at three. With three Dawgs on the pond, Jacob Teter grounded into a fielder’s choice, allowing Ryan Watson to score from third. A great play by reliever Dominic Jeancola (Embry-Riddle) on a ground ball up the middle off the bat of Tyler Osik (UCF) during the next at-bat turned into an inning-ending double play, though, minimizing the damage.
After the Dawgs added another run in the eight and two more in the ninth, the Lightning were down to their final three outs, trailing 6-3. Proving once again that you can never count out the Lightning, Leesburg put up four runs when they needed it most, winning on a walk-off error by first baseman Jacob Teter. Jake Matulia and Jose Crisostomo drew walks to start the comeback, and McCleney took four straight balls to load the bases one out later. A walk and two wild pitches later, Pat Thomas Stadium erupted with excitement as new addition Matthew Wiseman (San Jacinto) raced home on a hard-hit ball by Tanner Clark. Teter fumbled the grounder and lost it behind him, allowing Wiseman to cross the plate and Clark to reach first safely, sealing the win for Leesburg.
“We just never give up,” said Clark after Leesburg’s fourth walk-off win of the season. “We keep playing and playing until the last out and make the other team get 27 outs. We know we can do it because we’ve done it many times and we have great team chemistry.”
Despite trailing 6-3 heading into the bottom of the final inning, the Lightning held Winter Park to one run or less in every inning except the top of the ninth. “Anytime you can keep the other team from putting up crooked numbers that’s huge,” coach Billings explained. “It’s still frustrating at the same time because when we’re giving up that one run it’s because we’re making an error, walking the lead-off hitter, just things that we need to clean up.”
The Lightning travel to Winter Park tomorrow for a doubleheader with the Diamond Dawgs, starting at 4:30 p.m. Game one of the doubleheader will be a continuation of a game that began on June 23, in the midst of Leesburg's 13 game win streak. Because of this, if the Lightning win they will set a new league record for longest winning streak with 14 games in a row.
Matt Holzapfel (Elon University)