LEESBURG, Fla. -- The Leesburg Lightning endured a delay of their own namesake on Tuesday night before they were defeated, 4-2, by the Sanford River Rats.
Robbie Scott (North Florida), who was honored pregame for his selection as an NJCA All-American, got the Lightning started with a one-out, infield single. Scott then stole second base before taking third on a subsequent passed ball. A two-out, opposite field base hit from FCSL Player of the Week, Cage Cox, (Undecided) brought Scott home and gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead after one inning.
In the top of the third, the River Rats evened up the score at 1-1 with a two-out RBI single from Jarrod Cande (Florida Southern).
After three innings of one-run baseball, Lightning starter Peyton Winebarger (North Carolina A&T) was replaced by fellow right-hander, Matthew Graves (SW Miss. CC) at the beginning of the fourth. Graves tossed a scoreless fourth frame.
In the top of the fifth, with a runner on second and nobody out, Edward Surinach (Embry Riddle) made an incredible diving catch on a liner up the middle to save a run. After the runner on second was tagged out in a rundown while trying to steal third, Cande hit a solo home run that gave the River Rats a 2-1 advantage.
The Lightning squandered an opportunity to tie or take the lead in the home half of the fifth, as they were unable to push a run across after putting runners on first and second with no outs.
“I think guys are trying to do too much,” head coach Rich Billings said of the team’s struggles with stranding runners on base. “They are trying to do it all by themselves. We just need them to be who they are. One batter at a time, one baserunner at a time. That is how we will score runs.”
Billings praised the pitchers postgame, explaining that they pitched a solid game but two mistakes, a solo home run and a two-run home run, proved to be costly mistakes. “I thought the pitchers did a solid job tonight,” Billings said. “I thought Peyton Winebarger gave us a nice start. He settled in and gave us a nice start. Matt Graves and Amir Asghar were great tonight. I thought we pitched well enough and played good enough defense behind them to win.”
Both clubs went quietly in the 8th inning to set the stage in the ninth.
The River Rats added two insurance runs in the ninth when Francis Villaman (Undecided) launched a two-run homer of the left field fence. Sanford held a 4-1 lead entering the home half of the ninth inning and the last chance for the hometown Lightning.
Cage Cox led off the bottom of the ninth with an infield single and later advanced to second on a passed ball. Following a strikeout, Tanner Clark (North Florida) singled and the Lightning had runners on the corners with one out. After two consecutive Lightning batters were hit by pitches, a run came in to score and the Sanford lead was cut down to 4-2. With bases loaded and just one out, the Lightning went down on strikes in back-to-back plate appearances to end the game.
Coach Billings said the team has adjustments to make on the offensive side to curb the strikeout numbers. “We have to switch up some pregame stuff. We need to shorten some swings. We had ten strikeouts tonight. Even if you score a bunch of runs, ten is too many. We just have to cut those down and put the ball in play.”
The Lightning fell by a score of 4-2.