SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo baseball team needed two comebacks and a thrilling extra frame to claim a 7-6 victory over visiting Florida Tech in a 10-inning Sunshine State Conference affair on Friday night. The win, putting the Lions up in the three-game series, bumps Saint Leo to 14-26 and 3-13 in conference while Florida Tech falls to 26-16 and 8-11 in the SSC.
The visiting Panthers built a 5-1 lead through the majority of the game behind dominating pitching from lefty Jonathan Cornelius. With deep counts in every inning, his 116-pitch night came to an end as Florida Tech headed into the eighth, and the Lions jumped on the Panther bullpen almost immediately.
Facing reliever AJ Hillenbrand, the Lions scored three runs in the eighth inning to draw within one as a sacrifice fly from Ryan Powers and run-scoring singles from Jason Hamm and Nick Gill had the game in doubt. It would be an extra-effort play that would get the visitors from Melbourne, Fla. out of the frame when the Panther shortstop stretched to stop a Blake Turner shot up the middle as his off-balance throw caught Turner at first by a step. The play left two runners on base and the Lions with just three outs left.
After getting out of a jam in the top of the inning, the Lions were down to their final out in the bottom of the ninth, but had a runner on third thanks to a wild pitch that Chris Newcomb stretched from second to third when the FT catcher hesitated. Not hesitating at all, Dustin Brown took the first pitch of his at bat through the left side to score Newcomb and tie the game.
Putting the first two batters on base in the 10th, some heads up play by SLU third baseman Nick Gill kept the score tied when the first runner tried to advance home on a single to right field. The throw to the infield deflected off the glove of Ryan Brnovich and the runner on third looked as if he would push home, but Gill hustled to the ball and fired it to a waiting Jason Hamm to get the runner sliding in. Although a two-on, two-out RBI single would allow a run to score, the Saint Leo defense would step up again, stopping an additional run from crossing when Dustin Brown shot a laser to Hamm to get the runner trying to score. The two runners caught heading home in the frame would make a game-changing difference in the bottom of the 10th.
The Lions rallied again in the 10th when Frank Rawdow hit a shot to deep center that the Florida Tech centerfield could not handle. The resulting triple would have the tying run just 90 feet from scoring. Ryan Powers, next up in the lineup, shot a 2-2 pitch down the leftfield line to score Rawdow and put himself at second as the game-winning run. A fielding error at third kept the senior shortstop from advancing but put two men on base. After a strikeout, and with two outs in the frame, Brnovich zipped a 2-2 pitch up the middle and Powers slid into home just before the ensuing tag as the Lions erupted when the home plate umpire signaled safe, mobbing both Powers and Brnovich.
Despite giving up the 10th-inning run, Austin Buck (1-1) made his 17th appearance and picked up the win, with his ERA at a team-low 1.02 this season.
Trevor Graham (1-1), the last of four Panther pitchers picked up the loss. The collapse of the Tech bullpen erased a five-hit, one-run, seven-inning performance by the starter Cornelius.
Pounding out 14 hits total, the Lions saw five of their top six batters in the order get multiple hits, with Brnovich and Rawdow leading the way. The second baseman went 2-for-3 with the game-winning RBI and Rawdow proved his worth in the DH position going 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.
Having a knack for thrillers when both these teams meet at Thomas B. Southard Stadium, this is the third time in the last four games between these two when SLU is the home team that the game ended in the Lions’ last at-bat. All of the games finished in the 10th inning.
With the lead in the conference series, the Lions will look to maintain the momentum into their final home SSC doubleheader when they face the Panthers in a double-dip on Saturday afternoon. The games will also mark Senior Day for six Saint Leo seniors, playing in their final few games for the Lions. Senior Day ceremonies will kick off a few minutes before the 1:00 p.m. scheduled start of the first game.