SAINT LEO, Fla. – Saint Leo senior Dylan Harris' one-out double down the left field line in the 10th inning plated the game-winning run and lifted the Lions to a 9-8 victory over visiting West Alabama, in Sunday afternoon's final game of a three-game baseball series at Thomas B. Southard Stadium.
Harris' sharp grounder to third took a high bounce over the head of the West Alabama third baseman and went into left field, allowing Derek Gibree to score from second for the game winner. Gibree got aboard with a hit-by-pitch to lead off the 10th inning, and advanced to second on a Chase Turner single up the middle.
Saint Leo (2-1) held an 8-4 lead heading into the top of the ninth inning, and were one out away from clinching the victory. West Alabama scored four runs with two outs on two-run home runs by Taylor Stafford and Marcus Morrisette, and forced the extra innings after retiring the Lions in order in the ninth.
West Alabama (1-2) failed to advance their only runner in the 10th past first base, setting the stage for Harris' 10th inning heroics.
After briefly trailing the Tigers, 3-2, midway through the sixth inning, the Lions got back in front thanks to a two-run home run to left field by Gibree – his second home run of the weekend, and the second of his career. West Alabama knotted the game at 4-4 in top of the seventh on a solo shot to right by Stafford.
Saint Leo manufactured a pair of runs in the seventh on two hits, two walks, and a sac fly to center field, giving the Lions a 6-4 advantage. The lead stretched to 8-4 in the eighth with two runs off an Alex Mata rip down the left field line, scoring Turner and Harris.
Harris and Mata each finished with three hits, while Mata, Shane Williams, and Gibree logged a pair of runs batted in. Harris also crossed for three runs.
"We got a chance to win the game with our bats, and I feel pretty good about it," said Saint Leo Head Coach Sean O'Connor. "We just couldn't give up a lead (in the top of the ninth); we had to stay close enough to win it in the bottom of the ninth or in extra innings."
Lions starter Eoin McAvinchey, making his first appearance since the 2015 season, allowed just three runs on six hits while fanning a pair of Tiger batters, but he looking dominating at times on the mound and allowed more than one hit in just one of the six innings in which he appeared. McAvinchey was lifted for junior Shane Haight with no outs and three on in the sixth; he got Saint Leo out of its jam in the sixth, and coolly took the Lions through the seventh and eighth innings with just two hits.
Mike Mann, who was in the lineup as the DH on Sunday, went to the mound for Haight in the ninth after the pair of West Alabama home runs, and finished out the game to get the win.
"Shane Haight pitched well. I know it doesn't look good on paper, but he really pitched very well," said O'Connor. "He made a couple of mistakes, but it's early in the year and you're going to make mistakes."
"We got a great outing from McAvinchey, who's done a lot to get back to this point. His first game back after a year off - and its huge. He went out and did his job, and Mike Mann did a nice job going out to close it for us in the end," said O'Connor.
"If we pitch well, we're going to win a lot of games," added O'Connor.
For West Alabama, Morrisette and Murphy each charted three hits, including a pair of home runs by Morrisette. He also had three RBI, along with Stafford. The Tigers finished the game with 14 hits, seven of them for extra bases including three home runs.
"That team's a good team – that team's going to win 30 to 36 games, and they're going to go to a regional. They're very similar to us; they can swing the bat, play a little defense, and they're pitching is okay and has to throw strikes. If they throw strikes, they're going to win a lot of games."
Saint Leo remains at home next weekend for a three-game series against Lee University. The Lions and the Flames will play a single nine-inning game on Friday, Feb. 10, at 6:00 p.m., followed by a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 1:00 p.m.
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