SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo baseball team opened the home portion of their schedule in thrilling fashion as they rallied to defeat visiting Southeastern University 12-10 on a frigid Wednesday night from Thomas B. Southard Stadium.
A shaky first-career start from freshman Matt Hewitt saw Southeastern (5-2) jump on the Lions for seven unanswered runs midway through the third inning. Most of the seven runs came by way of two long home runs in the third; the first a three-run blast to left and the second a two-run shot to right.
After the second round-tripper, Head Coach Russ McNickle turned to his bullpen, a weakness last year, to try and keep the Lions in the contest. Freshman Austin Buck replaced Hewitt and tossed a gem over the next three-plus innings.
While Buck was cooling down the Southeastern bats, the Saint Leo offense began to heat up on the chilly night. The Lions scored their first run in the bottom of the third when J.C. Suarez laid down a perfect bunt that traced the third base line but never went foul, allowing Ryan Brnovich to score from third.
SLU would slowly etch away at the SE lead, taking a big chunk out of their advantage in the fourth inning. In that frame, the Lions plated a run after as Dustin Brown shot a ball to the deepest part of the park, scoring Ware Hart, who opened the inning with a walk. Nick Gill would reach with a single up the middle and proceed to steal his way around the bases, finishing with a steal of third and scoring home when the catcher’s throw sailed wide of the bag.
Keeping the Fire at bay required some smart defensive plays in addition to solid pitching. A perfect example came in the sixth as Southeastern had a runner on second with just one out. SLU catcher Jovanni Fiallo noticed that the runner was wandering too far from second during the pitch. Signaling to shortstop Ryan Powers, Fiallo shot off a snap throw to the bag and Powers caught the ball in the perfect position to keep the runner from getting back to the base, picking him off.
Scoring a run in the fifth to cut the visitor’s lead to just 7-5, the Lions took the lead in the bottom of the sixth when they scored four runs, with the biggest hit coming from the bat of Brown. After already notching two runs, the sophomore’s single through the right side broke a 7-7 score as it scored Suarez and Eugene Garnett Jr.
The final three innings became a sprint to the finish as teams traded runs, with Saint Leo trying to close out the win holding a 12-8 lead heading into the final stanza. The top of the ninth opened in nerve-racking fashion when the Fire put their first batter on base and then Vincente Castro came off the bench to club a two-run homer, cutting the SLU advantage to just two. Another single and McNickle turned to closer Corey Marcus, who forced Southeastern into a double-play as the Lions defense came through in the clutch. The final batter of the game struck out looking as Marcus snapped off a breaking pitch that caught his opponent off guard and sent the Lions to the win.
In another 15-hit night, the Lions were led by Brown, whose 3-for-5 night saw him notch four RBI and score twice. Brnovich went 2-for-2 with an RBI and two runs scored as well. Suarez went 3-for-5 as well with an RBI and a run scored.
Southeastern catcher Bryan Sparrow went a perfect 3-for-3 with four RBI and two runs scored and two walks in the loss.
Buck (1-0) picked up the first decision of his SLU career.
The Lions will stay home as they host Barry University in a weekend non-conference series. The Lions and Buccaneers will open the series on Saturday night with a 6:00 p.m. game. The series will conclude on Sunday with a doubleheader that is scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. The weekend’s slate of games will be at Southard Stadium on the Saint Leo campus.