LEESBURG, Fla - The Leesburg Lightning won an instant classic at Pat Thomas Stadium - Buddy Lowe Field on Friday night as they took game two of their series with the Deland Suns in walk off fashion, 4-3.
In the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and two outs, a passed ball that slipped by the Suns catcher would allow Gabriel Santiago (Newberry) to score from third base. A mob scene ensued at home plate and the Lightning won their second straight game.
“Our energy wasn’t great, but I think our guys are just cool, calm, collected and won’t ever get too high or too low,” Billings said. “We figured out a way to get it done and it wasn't pretty, but sometimes that's the way it goes.”
Another double digit hit performance from the Leesburg offense produced 10 hits, three of which went for extra bases.
“We’re starting to barrel up some baseballs and we’re starting to have some success.” Billings said. “I think it's going to be a fun team to watch these next couple of weeks.”
After falling behind 1-0 in the first inning, catcher Jakob Runnels (North Florida) tied the game with one swing of the bat in the third with an absolute no-doubt home run to left field. Runnels’ first bomb of the year and second extra base hit.
“That at-bat was so important in the game,” Billings said about Runnels’ homer. “It was good to see him get going tonight and he punched one through the right side with two strikes for his second hit and both of those were really good swings.”
Leesburg would cash in one more run in the inning as outfielder Marco Dinges (Tallahassee CC) doubled to left center and eventually scored on a passed ball.
Dinges was not done at the plate though as he drove in Gabriel Esquivel (North Florida) on a base hit to right field in the sixth inning to extend the Lightning lead to 3-1. He would finish the night 3 for 3 with a walk and two runs scored.
Billings also spoke on the recent spark in the Lightning bats and consistent number of baserunners.
“We’ve got some guys that are really starting to swing the bat well, Marco Dinges is one of them doing a great job,” Billings said. “We’ve also got some guys that are just good at getting on base. Austin Brinling and Gabe Santiago, both of those guys are doing a great job of getting on and giving us a chance to score runs.”
Leesburg starting pitcher Najer Victor (Florida Gulf Coast) had the best start of any Lightning pitcher so far this summer. Victor went the longest of any starter, throwing six innings of no-hit baseball, allowing one run and striking out seven.
“He did a fantastic job and gave us a shot,” Billings said. “I would love to get him a little more run support, I think he deserved the win.”
Deland would come back to tie it up at three with a pair of runs in the seventh. An RBI single from outfielder Evan Griffis (Stetson) would pull the Suns within one, and a passed ball would even the score once again.
With two runners on and one out in the top of the ninth, freshman right-hander Justin Gay (Pasco Hernando St.) entered the ballgame and delivered two thirds of an inning, striking out the first batter he faced followed by a groundout to end the frame. Gay earns his third win of the season, achieving the best win/loss record in the Florida League at 3-0.
“Justin was awesome, he always is,” Billings said. “Every time he comes in, you get that calming feeling as a coach and from the defense as well. It really is a relief having a guy like that on the backside of your bullpen.”
With the win, the Lightning improved to 8-5 on the year and will seek their second series-sweep of the season in game three with the Deland Suns on Saturday night. First pitch is set for 7:00 p.m. at Sperling Sports Complex.
Tom Cavanaugh, (Michigan State University)