LEESBURG - Fl, The Leesburg Lightning came out on top of an instant classic walk-off victory in 13 innings over the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs, 6-5, in game two of the FCSL Championship series on Saturday night at Pat Thomas Stadium-Buddy Lowe Field. The Bolts force a winner-take-all championship game three for the second-straight season.
A contest that took almost four and a half hours to complete, Lightning left fielder Michael Furry (St. Johns River) drew a game-winning bases loaded walk with two outs in the bottom of the 13th to give Leesburg the win.
“I was looking for a pitch to hit, but it wasn’t in the zone and we won the game on the walk-off.” Furry said. “The game was competitive the whole way through, there were a few nail-biter innings but all that matters is that we came up with the win.”
Furry was the key to victory as he drove in the final three runs for the Lightning, with a two-run triple in the sixth and the winning walk in the 13th. He finished the night 3 for 5 with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs with a walk and a run scored.
“My approach is always to hit the ball hard.” Furry said about his mindset at the plate. “I usually try to hit the fastball, use the whole field and good things happen.”
The Dawgs took an early lead as shortstop Dale Thomas (Florida) hit his second-consecutive first inning home run in the championship series with a solo shot to open the ballgame. Leesburg would strike back immediately with an RBI groundout from second baseman Gabriel Santiago (Coker) in the bottom half of the frame.
Leesburg center fielder Austin Brinling (North Florida) broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI single into center field. Furry would hit the triple in the sixth to drive in a pair to give the Bolts a three-run lead.
There were four lead changes in the contest, as Winter Park refused to go away by tying the game two different times. Trailing 5-2, the Dawgs plated three runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at five. An RBI single from Winter Park third baseman Michael Ballard (Eckerd) evened the score with two outs.
Lightning reliever Tyler Van Dyke (Seminole State) was another catalyst in the game two victory as he was third in relief, tossing six innings, not allowing a run on just five hits with five punch outs. He would exit the game in the 13th as he threw a league max, 103 pitches.
“I just wanted us to win, I wanted us to keep going.” Van Dyke said. “I bore down and said to myself, ‘they’re not scoring’”
Ineligible to pitch in game three, “T.V.D” completed the season with an astonishing zero runs allowed through 27 and a third innings pitched with 41 total strikeouts, making his case for the FCSL Cy-Young Award.
“Heaters up in the zone, throwing it by guys and showing people I can spin a breaking ball in the zone has worked for me.” Van Dyke said. “Filling up the strike zone, keeping guys on their toes gave me a lot of success.”
Closer Connor Gleeson (Gardner-Webb) would enter with two outs in the 13th inning and record the final out for Leesburg, earning his third win of the summer. Gleeson is eligible to pitch in game three as he stayed under 25 pitches in his short outing.
With the win, Leesburg head coach Rich Billings moved into second all-time in career wins as a Florida league head coach with his 196th victory in eight years on Saturday. Billings trails only legendary Deland Suns head coach Rick Hall who finished with 201 wins in 10 years.
The Lightning will play for yet another championship by forcing a game three against Winter Park on Sunday night at Sanford Memorial Stadium. Leesburg looks to win games two and three of the championship series in back-to-back years, hoping to win its second title in-a-row. First pitch is set for 6:30 pm ET in Sanford.
“I really like our odds in this game, they’re (Winter Park) down on pitching. Connor (Gleeson) and Casey (Daiss) will be good to go for us.” Van Dyke said. “We’re locked and loaded and gonna let our offense go to work.”
Furry had even more confidence heading into Sunday’s final championship game.
“We’re gonna win tomorrow, that’s a fact.”
Tom Cavanaugh, (Michigan State University)