By, Zack Smolen
#1 Leesburg Lightning (18-5)
#4 Seminole County Snappers (10-10-2, 1-0 Postseason)
Lightning: Dylan Kelley (1-0, 2.07 19K)
Snappers: Jack Anderson (1-2, 3.85 16K)
Regular Season Results: Snappers 6-1 W (7/14), Lightning 6-3 W (7/25)
The Seminole County Snappers earned a dramatic comeback victory Monday night against the Leesburg Storm, erupting late in the game offensively and nailing things down with their bullpen. The reward for their efforts is a return to Pat Thomas Stadium to take on the Leesburg Lightning, who have been the team to beat in the FCSL all summer long. This has all the makings of a classic matchup, as they’re the top-2 two teams in batting and sport two of the top-3 ERAs in the league vying for a chance to compete for the 2020 crown.
Battle on the Bump
Dylan Kelley (UNF) has been one of the hottest pitchers in all of the league, and will get the ball from Rich Billings for his team’s first playoff game. In Kelley’s last full-length start, he shut down a potent Scorpions offense, tossing five scoreless innings and striking out eight. His curveball is one of the sharpest pitches in the FCSL, and will keep the Snappers offense off-balanced along with a high-velocity fastball. Dylan put together a sparking performance for the Lightning in last year’s playoffs, with 5.2 frames of one-run ball and will look to add to that postseason resume on Tuesday.
For the Snappers, Jack Anderson (Florida St.) has had a bit of an up-and-down season, but looked like he had turned things around in his last start against the Storm on July 30. Jack doubled his season strikeout total with eight punch outs over five innings while allowing just one run on seven hits. However, if he wants to take down the Lightning, he’s going to have to live a little bit more on the edge of the strike zone, but if he can do that, the fans will be in for one heck of a pitcher’s duel for the second night in a row.
Keys to Victory
If Seminole County want to take down the top team in the league and earn a shot at the championship, their top priority should be slowing down the Lightning offense by essentially playing mistake-free baseball. The Lightning don’t have a .419 team OBP and score 6.3 runs per game by accident, they feature a lineup that top-to-bottom are patient at the plate and are excellent at exploiting mistakes. Anderson is going to have to make sure that he hits his spots well and gives his team a lot of innings as they burned through some of their best bullpen arms in their win against the Storm.
The Snappers will also have to take better advantage of their opportunities with runners in scoring position. In Monday’s game, they were just three for fifteen in those situations and left nine men on base. Those figures will certainly not fly against a team with a bullpen like Leesburg, so if they want to win they will need to right the ship on that front.
As for the Lightning, the best thing that they can do is force the Snappers to play their game by taking pitches and making Seminole County fill up the strike zone and give them good pitches to hit. This is an approach that has worked for Leesburg all summer long and is a great way to take advantage of their big bats in the middle of their order. Tommy Seidl (Harvard) and Collin Teegarden (Valdosta St.) have been tremendous plate setters, and now that bottom-of-the-order bats Camden Traficante (Stetson) and Jalen DeBose (FAU) have begun to heat up, the Lightning now clearly feature the best lineup one through ten in the FCSL.
On the mound, Leesburg will have to attack the zone early and often against their opponents. The Snappers lineup is really good at getting quick base hits and stringing them together to create traffic on the base paths. However, if they are constantly faced with two-strike counts, they will struggle to put their best swings on the ball outside of maybe Austin Davis (West Virginia) and JD Urso (Tampa) who are good hitters even when at a disadvantage. Kelley, and bullpen arms Tucker Smith (Georgia Southwestern) and Matt Coles (Carson-Newman) are especially good at hitting the edges of the plate and creating favorable scenarios for themselves. As long as Leesburg can play their game, they should have a good shot at advancing.
Both of these teams feature a rare combination of top-notch pitching and explosive lineups. With that being said, the Snappers have more obstacles to overcome due to their bullpen use in round one and penchant for leaving runners on base. The Lightning on the other hand, are riding a four game winning streak in which they took down the other top-4 teams in the league, including a playoff-like game against the Sanford River Rats to clinch first place on Friday. These two squads are certainly deserving of a shot at the championship, but Leesburg are the number one seed for a reason and the Snappers will have to pull out all the stops to come out on top in this winner-take all game.