Frank Jolley - Daily Commercial
LEESBURG — The Leesburg Lightning struggled with the Sanford River Rats all season.
Heading into Game 2 of the Florida Collegiate Summer League championship series Friday, the Lightning had managed only one win in four prior meetings between the two teams.
And the River Rats added an exclamation point in the most important game of the season for Leesburg.
Sanford’s Jarrod Cande blasted a two-run to spark a five-run eighth inning, lifting the River Rats to a 6-3 win at Pat Thomas Stadium-Buddy Lowe Field. It is the fifth Whiting Cup — symbolic of winning the FCSL Championship — in eight title-game appearances for the River Rats.
Cande’s blast to center field also plated Brandon Fields, who opened the frame by working Lightning reliever Jude Ard for a walk. The homer opened the gates for Sanford’s biggest inning of the two-game title series.
It was Cande’s first homer of the season and his first hit of the postseason; however, it was the 10th of his FCSL career — Cande hit nine during 2019 with the River Rats.
Connor Gleeson came on in relief of Ard, who allowed three runs in three innings of word. Gleeson was tagged for two more runs in 1/3 inning of work before Tyler Tipton came on and closed out the inning, stranding the bases loaded.
Leesburg rallied for two in the bottom of the eighth, when Daniel Cruz and Camden Traficante scored on a fielder’s choice by Collin Teegarden and a single by Alejandro Figueredo. However, Sanford reliever Kyle Kramer limited the damage by retiring the Lightning and stranding two on the base paths.
Sanford took a 1-0 lead in the third against Lightning starter Sam Bennett. Garrett Wallace singled to open the inning and raced home when Noah Orlando doubled to right field.
In the fourth, the Lightning tied the game when Teegarden scored on an infield single by Gabriel Rincones and the teams’ carried the tie into the fateful eighth inning.
The River Rats outhit Leesburg 8-7 and won despite committing three errors. Josh Crouch had two hits for Sanford.
Ryan Brewer, who came on in the seventh in relief of Sanford starting pitcher Grayson Moore, earned the win. Moore, who scored a run and had two RBIs in Thursday’s 8-6 win in the opening game of the series, was named the league’s postseason Most Valuable Player.
Ard was tagged with the loss.
The loss, undoubtedly, put a damper on an otherwise successful season for the Lightning. Leesburg posted the FCSL’s best regular-season record with an 18-5 mark, but was 1-2 in the postseason, it’s only win a 9-0 victory against the Seminole County Snappers in the semifinals.
Sanford was 15-6 in the regular season, but closed with a bang, finishing 3-0 in the postseason.
Leesburg was trying for its third FCSL title, after winning in 2007 and 2009. The Lightning also appeared in the FCSL title game in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015.
Sanford’s previous Whiting Cups came in 2004 — the FCSL’s inaugural season — 2011, 2015 and 2017. The River Rats also made title-game appearances in 2005, 2014 and 2016, but came up short in each of those games.