Leesburg, Fla.- Just as they were on Tuesday night against the River Rats, the Leesburg Lightning bats were silenced early by dominant pitching on Wednesday. History repeated itself at Pat Thomas Stadium on Wednesday, with the Lightning eventually piecing things together against the Winter Garden Squeeze. The way they did it, however, was very different.
The Lightning improved to 3-1 on the season and moved into a tie for first thanks to an offensive outburst in the middle innings, while the Squeeze fell into a tie for last with the Seminole County Snappers at 1-3.
The Lightning and Squeeze were the lone Florida Collegiate Summer League action on Wednesday night after what was supposed to be the season opener for both squads and the home opener for the Lightning was rained out on Saturday. The Squeeze struck first, with Bryce Jackson (Frostburg State) knocking in the game’s first run in the top of the 1st off of Leesburg’s starter Myles Caba (South Florida State).
Gavin Galy (Nichols State), who got the start for the Squeeze, was sensational early, retiring nine of the first ten batters he faced, with the only baserunner coming after Clay Stearns (Troy) was hit by a pitch. For the Lightning, Caba and Jacob Bradshaw (North Alabama) silenced the Squeeze bats, retiring 11 of their next 13 faced with six strikeouts over 3.2 innings.
The Lightning pitching would get all the cushion they needed in the 4th. Galy found himself in a bases loaded situation after hitting Chase Malloy (Jacksonville), walking Cam Hill (Georgia College & State) on four pitches, and allowing a single to Jordan Griffin (Carson-Newman). Joseph Stubbs (Georgia-Gwinnett), who was 0-9 coming into that at-bat, drove in Malloy to tie it at 1. From there, Stearns did the rest, sending a rocket over the left-field wall to clear the bases and make it 5-1. For Stearns, it was his first homer of the season and his first grand slam in a very, very long time:
“Last time I hit a grandslam I was 11 years old.” said Stearns. “I was just trying to get a ball into the outfield so he [Hill] could score. At first, I thought it was a popup and then I heard everyone going nuts and I saw it go out.”
For Coach Rich Billings, who saw his guys muster only four hits through the first eight innings on Tuesday, improved plate discipline was the catalyst behind the offensive explosion:
“It was really encouraging to see our guys break through against a really good arm. We did a good job of making some adjustments. We shortened our swings and stopped chasing his changeup and made him throw that fastball. Once we started hunting that fastball, things started to change for us.”
The Lightning would tack on four more runs in the 5th, with Jalen DeBose (FAU), Malloy, Griffin, and Stubbs all singling. Stubbs brought Griffin in on his hit, and Stearns’ double plated Stubbs. Of the 22 runs the Lightning have scored this season, 14 of them have come in between the 4th and 6th inning.
The Squeeze put some pressure back on the Lightning in the 6th, scoring three of their own off Bradshaw and Will Sprague (Southern Virginia). Colton Bruns (St. Leo) and Gerry Kelly (Undecided) allowed a combined one run over the last three innings, punching out six.
The improvements at the plate were evident, but Coach Billings was equally impressed with his pitching:
“Many of them improved from their first outing." said Billings. "We got some guys some much-needed work. Right now, we want to develop guys, get them in games and get them in innings, but we want to win too. We accomplished that tonight”
After two straight home wins, the Lightning hit the road to open up a three-game series with the Winter Park Diamond Dogs (2-3). Thursday night’s game will be at 7 p.m at Bishop Moore High School, before alternating home and away games for the duration of the series. Coach Billings knows that early season wins have an extra level of importance to a summer ball club.
“Winning makes it much more enjoyable to show up the next day… Any game you win in June is one you don’t have to win in July.”
Matias Weilmann (Ithaca College)