Leesburg Strikes Back, Ties Semi-final Series with Rats
SANFORD, Fla - The Leesburg Lightning even the semi-final playoff series with the Sanford River Rats at one game each, defeating the Rats 6-2 on Tuesday night at Sanford Memorial Stadium.
Trailing by a 2-1 score heading into the middle innings, two of the top Lightning hitters came up big to turn the tide of the contest.
In the sixth, center fielder Austin Brinling (North Florida) lined an RBI double into the left center gap to tie the game. In the very next inning, catcher Jakob Runnels (North Florida) drove a ball the opposite way for an RBI double that would give Leesburg a 3-2 lead. The Bolts would never lose the lead past that point.
“I felt pretty good. It's the playoffs and I feel like it's time to go,” Brinling said regarding his incredible night. “You have to bring your A-game and that's what I've been trying to do these past couple games. I wanna help my team win and help us get to another championship.”
Leesburg sent out right-hander Cody Bruns (Mars Hill) for the start on the mound as he allowed the only runs Sanford would score on the night. Bruns tossed three full innings, allowing two runs on four hits.
First in relief for the Lightning was righty Casey Daiss (Pasco Hernando St), who earned the win and pitched three scoreless innings from the fourth to the sixth. He would be a big part in Leesburg’s playoff victory.
Clinging to a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Lightning third baseman Noah Best (Birmingham Southern) belted a two-run homer to deep left field for a pair of extra insurance runs to put Leesburg ahead by three.
Brinling’s day would not end as he added another run to Leesburg’s lead with an RBI triple to right center field in the top of the ninth. Billings had a lot to say about his star center fielder.
“He just comes to play every single day. You gotta love that guy because you know he is going to always make something happen,” Lightning head coach Rich Billings said about Brinling’s performance. “What's not to love about him, we’re so glad he's on our team”
The Lightning bullpen continued to impress as right-hander Tyler Van Dyke (Seminole St) entered the ballgame with two outs in the seventh inning. Van Dyke struck out the only batter he faced in the seventh followed by a perfect eighth inning with another strikeout.
“Ty hadn’t given up a run all summer and there was a good chance he wasn't going to give one up tonight.” Billings said. “I had a lot of confidence in our bullpen and I knew they would give us a chance to win.”
Veteran closer Connor Gleeson (Gardner Webb) came in to finish the ballgame in the bottom of the ninth and fell into some trouble with two runners on and nobody out. Gleeson would work out of the jam, getting a double play and strikeout to end it without any damage.
Momentum has swung into Leesburg’s favor moving into a winner-take-all game three of the FCSL semi-final series
“We’re pumped, I think everyone is ready to go,” Brinling said. “Tomorrow is going to be really exciting and we are going to put on a show for our home crowd.”
The deciding game three of the series with Sanford will be played on Wednesday night at Pat Thomas Stadium-Buddy Lowe Field. The winner of game three will move onto the FCSL Championship Series.
“It certainly feels like we have momentum but we are in survival mode, just like they (Sanford) are now.” Billings said. “We have our home ballpark, our home fans and I think we will come out tomorrow and play hard.”
Tom Cavanaugh, (Michigan State University)