LEESBURG, Fla- After winning two championships in their first three years, the Leesburg Lightning fell into some hard times in the postseason, losing five consecutive championships games/series. After forcing a game three on Saturday night, they claimed the third Whiting Cup in franchise history on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs 9-1 in just seven innings.
The game before the game took place after the national anthem, with Blayne Huter (South Florida State) winning a standoff against two Diamond Dawgs players outside of their respective dugouts. Despite a nearly two-hour weather delay beforehand, the Lightning faithful had Pat Thomas Stadium rocking.
The team gave them reason to cheer in the first, with a Cam Hill (Georgia College & State) double and Robbie Scott (UNF) triple quickly opening the scoring. A throwing error allowed Scott to come home and make it 2-0 Leesburg.
The Lighting defense showed up in the second, with Naphis Llanos (Francis Marion) handling a screamer towards third and Jesse Hall (Troy) making a Derek Jeter-esque throw to first on a tough grounder.
The third inning brought more offense for the Bolts. Llanos wasted no time getting going, jumping on the first pitch he saw for his first home run in over 60 at-bats. The only other long ball he had in the season also came against Winter Park. The party was far from being over, with Clay Stearns (Troy) singling up the middle before Scott smashed a pitch over the left field wall to make it 5-0 Lightning.
The Lightning had no intention of taking their foot off the pedal, with a Drew Stubbs (Eastern Florida) RBI single scoring Travis Stapleton (UNF) to make it 6-0 in the fourth. The long ball came back in style for the Lightning in the next inning, with Stearns smashing a two-run no-doubter into left field and JD Stubbs (Georgia Gwinnett) following up with one into center field two batters later to make it 9-0.
The Dawgs got one back in the seventh on a solo home run and, despite getting a runner on first and second, had the door shut on them by Zach Henderson (Valdosta State).
The Lightning turned in what was possibly their most complete performance of the season on the biggest stage. Colton Bruns (Undecided), who was making his second start of the playoffs, allowed just four hits and one walk over six scoreless innings. The defense sparkled throughout the game, culminating in Cam Hill robbing a home run in center field in the fifth inning. Offensively, the Lightning registered 11 hits, eight of which were extra base hits. The four dingers in the game were the most for the Lightning in a game this season.
After the game, Clay Stearns was named Finals MVP for his performance. Over the three game series, Stearns went a ridiculous six for 11 with two homers, registering two hits in each of the three games while driving in four runs and scoring five of his own.
For head coach Rich Billings, it was his second title with the Lightning and his first as head coach. His previous championship came in 2007 as an assistant coach. A few hours later, it was announced that Billings, who is the all-time winningest coach in Leesburg Lightning history, was named the 2021 FCSL Manager of the Year.
With the win, the team claimed their first title since 2009 and snapped an 11-season championship drought and a five-game losing streak in the final game/series. The winningest franchise in FCSL history, after a long time away, is finally on top again.
Matias Weilmann (Ithaca College)