8/5/16 Game 2 vs. Sanford River Rats: Pregame Notes

LEESBURG, Fla. – The Leesburg Lightning and Sanford River Rats head to Pat Thomas Stadium – Buddy Lowe Field tonight for Game Two of their best-of-three series. In order to keep their season alive, the Lightning must win to send the series back to Sanford on Friday night. First pitch is at 6 p.m.

After coming out victorious in 11 innings on Tuesday night against the Winter Garden Squeeze, Leesburg played another 11 innings on Wednesday night.

Trailing 5-3 late in the game, the Lightning pushed the River Rats to the brink and tied the game in the ninth to send it to extras. Austin Simmons tripled to lead-off the inning and tied the game on a sacrifice fly by Tanner Long.

“This team is made for the late game heroics,” Head Coach Rich Billings said. “They have a knack for making big plays and coming up with big hits late in the game.”

The Lightning faithful surely saw that on Tuesday night, but they fell short on Wednesday night — losing just their second extra innings game of the season (6-2).

“The stakes will be that much higher tomorrow night,” Billings said after the game. “We’ll have our home fans behind us louder than ever, but we have to make the plays and come up with the big hits if we want to have a chance.”

With 10 returning players from last year’s team, the Lightning are hungrier than ever to get back to Tropicana Field. Even more so, they’re hungry to get past the River Rats. Leesburg fell to Sanford in the 2015 Championship Game, 1-0.

“We have a lot of history with Sanford,” Billings said. “It’s no secret that we don’t like each other, which would make it even better to pick up a win tonight and then win in Sanford.”

First thing’s first though, we need to take care of business tonight.”

Lightning Starting Lineup

  1. Nixon – 2B
  2. A. Simmons – CF
  3. Scanlon – 1B
  4. C. Simmons – 3B
  5. Long – RF
  6. Bonilla – LF
  7. Baez – DH
  8. Mauer – C
  9. Pagliei – SS

On the mound: Brecklin

 

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8/3/16 Game 1 @ Sanford River Rats: Pregame Notes

SANFORD, Fla. – Following a dramatic walk-off win over the Winter Garden Squeeze in 11 innings on Tuesday night, the Leesburg Lightning will now move on to face the top seeded Sanford River Rats in a best-of-three series. Game 1 will be played tonight at 7 p.m. at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium.

The Lightning displayed a flair for the dramatic during the 2015 FCSL playoffs and through one game of the 2016 postseason, the flair has continued.

With two outs, a two strike count, and the winning run 90 feet away, Josh Pagliei lined a walk-off single over the head of Winter Garden’s shortstop to keep Leesburg’s season alive. The crowd at Pat Thomas Stadium – Buddy Lowe Field exploded with excitement as the Lightning lived to see another day.

“This series with Sanford is going to be a lot of fun,” Pagliei said. “Hopefully we get the win in Game 1 so we can play in front of our home crowd one last time, with a chance to win the series.”

Leesburg and Sanford matched up rather competitively during the regular season — Sanford taking the season series 5-4. Head Coach Rich Billings and his team took two of three from Sanford when the season was on the line and their playoff chances dwindling.

The regular season aside, the Lightning surged into the postseason winning seven of their last 10 and are undoubtedly, one of the more dangerous teams in the FCSL playoffs. They caught fire at just the right time and are currently riding a heap of emotion, and incredible momentum.

“Sanford was the team that we overcame the most adversity against this season,” Billings said. There’s going to be a lot of intensity in this series.”

“Anything can happen in the playoffs, but this team has an incredible amount of heart and is prepared for all.”

Lightning Starting Lineup

  1. Nixon – 2B
  2. A. Simmons – CF
  3. Long – RF
  4. C. Simmons – 3B
  5. Bonilla – DH
  6. Baez – C
  7. Hanlon – LF
  8. Mauer – 1B
  9. Pagliei – SS

On the mound: Walker Burgess

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8/2/16 FCSL Play-In Game vs. #5 Winter Garden Squeeze: Pregame Notes

LEESBURG, Fla. – Tonight at Pat Thomas Stadium – Buddy Lowe Field, the Leesburg Lightning (#4) and Winter Garden Squeeze (#5) matchup in the Florida Collegiate Summer League play-in game. The winner will advance to play the top seeded Sanford River Rats (#1) in a best-of-three game series, beginning on Wednesday.

Leesburg went 4-5 vs. Winter Garden during the regular season, winning four of the last five — outscoring them 36-24.

Following Sunday night’s 7-3 win over the DeLand Suns, Head Coach Rich Billings was overly adamant about jumping out to an early lead against Winter Garden.

“We need to score early, and no amount of runs is going to be enough on Tuesday night,” Billings said. “The more runs we can score, the more our pitchers will have a chance to breathe and relax. If we can put ourselves in a position to save as many pitchers as possible, that’s a plus as well.”

Although the Lightning have yet to face probable starter, Shane Haight, they’ll look to ride the hot bats at the top of the lineup to a few early runs.

Austin Simmons finished the regular season with 175 AB’s, a new all-time record in the FCSL. He also finishes third all-time in runs (40) and hits (54). Not too shabby. Harrison Scanlon finished the season with a new record for total bases (89), breaking the previous record of 81. He also looks to be the unanimous MVP choice, finishing with a .381 batting average (2nd), 6 HR (2nd), 38 RBI (1st), and 59 hits (1st). A monumental season for the Lightning first basemen.

Long finished with a .285 BA, 4 HR, and 34 RBI (T-2nd). Nixon finished 2nd in stolen bases with 23 and also had 48 hits.

Clay Simmons also had a spectacular season for Leesburg, finishing with a .293 BA, 49 hits, 4 HR, and 26 RBI (T-6th).

It’s the top of the lineup that has carried the Lightning down the stretch, along with their three-armed monster out of the bullpen. MacLain Larson (1.57 ERA), Drew Peden (1.72 ERA), and Dan Twitty (3.75 ERA) staffed a Leesburg bullpen that helped anchor many Lightning wins — especially during their move into playoff contention.

“By scoring runs early, it not only takes the pressure off our starting pitchers but also our guys out of the bullpen,” Billings said.

Even though the Lightning may display well on paper, their true advantage comes in the form of their home crowd at Pat Thomas Stadium.

“Pat Thomas will be rocking on Tuesday night,” Billings said. “These guys know the atmosphere that they’ll get here at home, and they thrive on it.”

First pitch from Pat Thomas Stadium – Buddy Lowe Field is set for 6 p.m.

Lightning Starting Lineup

  1. Nixon – 2B
  2. A. Simmons – CF
  3. Scanlon – 1B
  4. C. Simmons – 3B
  5. Long – RF
  6. Bonilla – LF
  7. Baez – C
  8. Koenig – DH
  9. Pagliei – SS

On the mound: Chris Lake

 

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Final Weekly Summary

The Leesburg Lightning played 14 games in 13 days to end the regular season. They won seven of their last 10, and won five straight during that time to play themselves into contention and clinch a playoff spot.

The Lightning are heading to the Florida Collegiate Summer League playoffs, but with a little over a week to play in the regular season, things weren’t exactly looking up.

Following a series in which they took two of three from the first place Sanford River Rats — their second straight series win — the Lightning went on a five-game winning streak. The next three days, Leesburg scored 48 runs and absolutely put a damper on the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs season as they swept their three-game series. Not to mention that Harrison Scanlon (Western Kentucky) had perhaps the best day in Florida Collegiate Summer League history. Even though the first half of a doubleheader was played a week earlier, Scanlon finished a doubleheader sweep of the Diamond Dawgs with three home runs and 12 RBI. A day to be remembered.

Even though their five-game win streak was snapped on Wednesday at the DeLand Suns, the Lightning had put themselves into playoff contention and were eager to continue their climb up the Florida Collegiate Summer League standings. They won two of their final five games but had set themselves up as a #4 seed and home field for the play-in game on Tuesday, August 2.

Leesburg will look to ride their late regular season push to a victory on Tuesday as they welcome the #5 Winter Garden Squeeze to Pat Thomas Stadium – Buddy Lowe Field. The winner will move on to play the top seeded Sanford River Rats in a best-of-three game series beginning on Wednesday.

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A Final Farewell to Leesburg

To the Leesburg Lightning Organization:

Even though I may have been the team “journalism intern”, in my mind, the best part of the gig was also being a fan of the Leesburg Lightning. For me, the fan experience gave itself a whole new meaning on Friday, July 22. Pat Thomas was virtually packed to the brim, the clouds broke and opened up to a clear night, and we beat the first place River Rats to begin a much needed five-game win streak.

It was a night that helped to remind me that there are few things more pure than a summer night at Pat Thomas Stadium, in “America’s hometown.” Not to mention, I was fortunate enough to spend it with all of the people who have become like family to me.

As I sit here, tomorrow night is the final regular season game. It may also be the final home game — depending on where we finish in the standings.

Opening night came at the beginning of June, and just like that, it’s the end of July and we’re wrapping up the regular season. It all flew right by me in an instant. However, the playoffs have yet to take place and I have all the faith in the world that the Lightning will persevere and bring another Florida League championship back to Leesburg.

What I really mean though, is that I’m not quite ready to return home.

Before I do, I’d like to take the time to express all of my gratitudes to the summer family I won’t soon forget.

First, to Mr. Chuck Johnson, John Meier, Roger Croft, and Tyler Brandeburg, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be apart of the Leesburg Lightning organization and continue pursuing the many career aspirations that I have. You all supported me from day one and made me feel at home when my true home was over a thousand miles away.

I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in Leesburg back in late May. I was nervous. I was overly anxious to begin working. Even more so, I was eager to meet new people and learn all about what makes Leesburg special.

Each of you wrapped your arms around me — metaphorically speaking — and welcomed me to my new home. You encouraged and helped me through a brand new experience, and your kindness never failed to keep a smile on my face.

You also taught me the true meaning behind being apart of the Lightning organization. “We do things a little differently from the rest of the Florida League.” I heard those words the very first day and they stuck with me the entire way. Fortunately for me, those words rang truer than ever and I quickly figured out what they really meant.

It didn’t take long to see that summer league baseball in Leesburg, Florida, is much more than just a baseball game. Much more than just simply going out to the ballpark to catch a few innings and eat a hot dog. It’s a rite of passage.

Truth be told, I’ve never experienced anything quite like a Leesburg Lightning game. It’s like being sent back in time to be reminded of the exact reason why baseball is referred to as “America’s pastime.” Nothing was more memorable than the 4th of July game. It’s when I fell in love with Leesburg. I also fell in love with the diverse fan base that the Lightning have. From the young kids who attend games with their parents, to the older demographic, you all are what makes coming to Pat Thomas so special. Your passion for the Lightning and for the community made me feel so fortunate to be in Leesburg.

Traveling to the other stadiums/fields for away games was never the same. Not even close. I always wanted to come right back to Leesburg because the authenticity just wasn’t there for me. I was spoiled, but in the greatest way possible.

To add, I’m deeply appreciative of all of your support throughout this entire experience. Your compliments about my writing, and your smiling faces were heartwarming and made coming to Pat Thomas so simple.

Next, to all of the Lightning players, thank you for everything. Thank you for treating me like a friend, for taking the time out of your lives to get to know me, and for always respecting me. I look up to every single one of you. You’re doing what I wish I was still doing. You’re pursuing a dream. I played baseball from age four up until the end of high school, and I always dreamed of one day playing major league baseball — just like all of you. Unfortunately, I fell out of love with the game about half way through high school. I went home one day and I realized that I just wasn’t having that much fun anymore. Nonetheless, I miss it every single day. Baseball was my vice, where I always seemed to be the happiest. Where I went to forget about everything else.

It always amazed me how baseball could do that.

Now that we have one game left before the playoffs, nothing would make me happier than to see you guys go to Tropicana Field and win the whole thing. I know you guys are capable of it. I know no other team in the league has overcome as much adversity. The great people of Leesburg are already proud of you, why not give them more reason to be proud of their hometown team?

We may cross paths somewhere down the road, but until then, I wish you all nothing but the best in all of life’s endeavors. For those of you who continue playing after college, keep chasing those dreams. Keep chasing them for all of the little leaguers out there who lace up every day, dreaming that one day they’ll wear a major league uniform.

To Coach Billings, Coach Holt, and Coach Teegarden, thank you for always offering a helping hand and for standing by my side throughout this entire process. I may not have always done my job to the best of my ability, but I’m grateful that you stuck with me. I wish each of you the best of luck in your coaching careers and where ever life’s journey may take you.

To Demery, Tori, and Zach, I’m really going to miss you guys. We’ve sure come a long way since intern orientation back in May. We walked into that room in Sanford and hadn’t the slightest clue as to where this experience was going to take us. We were blessed to have been placed in Leesburg with all of the wonderful people who made this experience what it was. We learned a great deal from each other. We got sick of each other at times but we also created an endless amount of memories here in Leesburg. I couldn’t have asked for a better set of interns to have worked with, and I hope you’ve all enjoyed this experience as much as I have.

As for the future, I hope we keep in touch with one another. I know you’ll all do great things and accomplish all of the things you set out to do. Always feel free to reach out if you’re ever in need of anything. You guys will always be family to me.

With this unforgettable experience coming to a close, what’s next?

After my 15 hour drive back home to Maryland, I’ll soon be setting out on another one of life’s journeys. On August 15, I’ll be departing home once again to take on graduate school in Phoenix, Arizona. I’ll be attending Arizona State University in hopes of earning my Master’s Degree in Sport Journalism. The hot desert awaits me but Leesburg will always be near and dear.

Lastly,

Leesburg will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve been blessed with so many incredible opportunities in this life, and spending a summer here has certainly been one of them. This community has shown me what it means to truly love America. It has shown me that whatever dilemmas we may face in this world, we’ll always have each other. Never change Leesburg. This world is a much better place with each and every one of you in it.

I have no doubt that I will soon return to “America’s hometown.” Until then, I’ll miss you all dearly.

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7/30/16 @ Altamonte Springs Boom: Pregame Notes

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. – The Leesburg Lightning (20-22) and Altamonte Springs Boom (20-19) conclude their three-game series tonight as they return to Lake Brantley High School for a first pitch at 7 p.m.

It’s another night of baseball in Central Florida. Playoff seeding is still up for grabs. A game and a half separates Leesburg and Altamonte Springs.

Who will step up and take the series?

For those who don’t already know, the Florida Collegiate Summer League playoff format goes as follows:

  • #4 and #5 seeds face off in play-in game on Tuesday with the winner facing #1 seed (probably Sanford)
  • #2 vs. #3 and #1 vs. winner of the play-in game begin three-game series on Wednesday
  • Winner of the those series’ play in championship game at Tropicana Field on Sunday, August 7

Make sure to tune in as the final few days of the Florida League season are bound to bring excitement.

 Lightning Starting Lineup

  1. Nixon – 2B
  2. A. Simmons – CF
  3. Scanlon – 1B
  4. C. Simmons – 3B
  5. Long – RF
  6. Bonilla – LF
  7. Baez – DH
  8. Mauer – C
  9. Pagliei – SS

On the mound: Kade Hunkapiller

Hunkapiller will be making his first start of the season. With a knuckleball in his repertoire from the left side, he’ll look to keep Altamonte Springs off balance. 

 

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7/29/16 vs. Altamonte Springs Boom: Pregame Notes

LEESBURG, Fla. – The Leesburg Lightning (19-22) travel back to their home confines tonight for the second game of a three-game set with the Altamonte Springs Boom (20-18). The first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Fatigue is setting in. Arms are getting tired. The hot Florida sun continues to beat down.

The playoffs are looming.

With just three games remaining, the Florida Collegiate Summer League regular season is approaching its finish. Three teams have already clinched playoff spots, but seeds 1-5 are up for grabs for anyone’s taking.

With that being said, the stakes are mounting and anything can happen over the next three days.

“Tomorrow’s a must win,” Head Coach Rich Billings said following Thursday night’s loss. “If we want to keep pace and accomplish what we’ve set out to do, no game is more important.”

Even though they faltered in the eighth inning on Thursday night and walked away with a 9-4 loss at the hands of Altamonte Springs, the Lightning moved into a fourth place tie with the Winter Garden Squeeze — both teams remain two games ahead of the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs.

If Leesburg hopes to move into third place and avoid the #4 vs. #5 play-in game on Tuesday, it must win its final three games and hope for some help in the process.

“That’s the goal, to avoid that play-in game,” Billings said. “With arms going down and fatigue really starting to become an issue, every team is vying for that 1-3 seed.”

“It’s going to be a scramble to the end.”

If there’s any team in the Florida League who is capable of winning out and carrying momentum into the playoffs, it’s the Lightning. If there’s a team who knows what it takes to be at Tropicana Field come August 7, it’s the Lightning. Most importantly, if anyone knows what it takes to overcome adversity, it’s the Leesburg Lightning.

Here’s to the final three days of the regular season. Buckle up.

Lightning Starting Lineup 

  1. Nixon – 2B
  2. A. Simmons – CF
  3. Scanlon – 1B
  4. C. Simmons – 3B
  5. Long – RF
  6. Bonilla – LF
  7. Baez – DH
  8. Harris – C
  9. Pagliei – SS

On the mound: Walker Burgess

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7/28/16 @ Altamonte Springs Boom: Pregame Notes

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. – The Leesburg Lightning (19-21) and Altamonte Springs Boom (19-18) begin a three-game set tonight from Lake Brantley High School. First pitch in a series with heavy playoff implications is set for 7 p.m.

The boys from Leesburg came back to earth last night as they dropped a close one to the DeLand Suns, 5-4. Trailing 5-2 in the ninth, the Lightning pushed the Suns to the brink with two runs to pull within a run.

Down to their final out, Tanner Long drove a ball deep into center field, putting a legitimate scare into the home fans at Conrad Park – Melching Field.

DeLand center fielder, Zachary Reks, tracked the ball down and made a phenomenal catch to end Leesburg’s rally and its five-game winning streak.

“We ran into a good team tonight, Head Coach Rich Billings said after the game. “They did all the right things and we just came up short.”

With the Winter Garden Squeeze stealing another game from the struggling Sanford River Rats on Wednesday night, the Lightning have moved back into fifth place — a half game behind the Squeeze for fourth place.

At 19-18, the Boom are a game and a half up on the Lightning and with their three-game set beginning tonight, the stakes could not be higher.

“With only four games left until the playoffs, we still feel like we’re in a good spot,” Billings said.

“Our destiny lies in our hands, and only ours.”

Lightning Starting Lineup

  1. Nixon – 2B
  2. A. Simmons – CF
  3. Scanlon – 1B
  4. C. Simmons – 3B
  5. Long – RF
  6. Bonilla – LF
  7. Baez – C
  8. Koenig – DH
  9. Pagliei – SS

On the mound: Chris Lake 

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7/27/16 @ DeLand Suns: Pregame Notes

DELAND, Fla. – The Leesburg Lightning (19-20) look for their sixth straight win tonight as they travel to Conrad Park to take on the second place DeLand Suns (19-16). The two teams will be continuing a suspended game from July 14, with no score in the second inning.

The scene has changed drastically since the two teams met nearly two weeks ago. The Lightning were in the midst of a three-game losing streak and looking for any sort of momentum to help propel them towards the finish line.

Since then, Leesburg has gone 7-2 and are currently riding a five-game winning streak in which they’ve scored 64 runs over that timespan.

“As a team, I thought we had peaked during the Sanford series,” Head Coach Rich Billings said. “I was surely wrong.”

This team’s transformation over the past week has been rousing to say the least and even jaw dropping at times. They’ve come alive in a way that makes it seem as if they were a sleeping giant all along.

The only problem for the Florida League is, someone’s woken them up.

“We know where we stand,” Billings said. “If we do our jobs and continue to go out and win games, the positive results will continue to follow.”

“Our capabilities as a team were never in question. We’re just taking it to the next level now, just in time for the playoffs.”

Lightning Starting Lineup

  1. Nixon – SS
  2. A. Simmons – CF
  3. Scanlon – 1B
  4. Long – RF
  5. C. Simmons – 3B
  6. Baez – DH
  7. Mauer – C
  8. Hanlon – LF
  9. Pagliei – 2B

On the mound: Call Graham 

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7/26/16 @ Winter Park Diamond Dawgs: Pregame Notes

WINTER PARK, Fla. – The Leesburg Lightning (18-20) and Winter Park Diamond Dawgs (14-21) travel to Bishop Moore High School tonight to conclude their three-game set. The two teams will matchup for the final time in the regular season with the first pitch set for 7 p.m.

With heavy playoff implications involved, the Lightning took two from the Diamond Dawgs on Monday at Pat Thomas Stadium – Buddy Lowe Field.

The two teams began the day with the resumption of their suspended game from July 12, with Leesburg ahead 7-4 in the third. The Lightning wasted no time finishing Winter Park off as they scored seven in the sixth to beat the Diamond Dawgs in seven innings, 15-5. Harrison Scanlon had himself a day, going 3-for-4 with two home runs (grand slam and 2-run HR) and seven RBI.

He did not let up in game two as he smacked another grand slam in the second inning, accounting for a total of three home runs and 12 RBI between the two games. With his impressive day at the plate, Scanlon is now third in the league in batting average (.400), T-2nd in home runs (5), and leading the league in both hits (52) and RBI (33).

“Harry has been our go to guy during the second half of the season,” Head Coach Rich Billings said. “Right now he’s seeing the ball better than he has all season. It’s coming in huge to him and it’s been extremely exciting to watch.”

Not to steal all of Scanlon’s thunder, the Lightning have also seen contributions from a handful of other guys during their recent surge.

Tanner Long added a home run in Leesburg’s game two win — his fourth of the season. Jose Bonilla hit his first home run on Saturday at Sanford, and also went 3-for-4 with three RBI in game one on Monday.

Along with their offensive power surge, the Lightning are also seeing more contributions from starting pitching.

“We’re scoring more runs which is allowing our pitchers to go out and throw with more of a cushion,” Billings said. “We’ve been waiting for that all season and now that it’s happening, it’s nice.”

Following the doubleheader sweep on Monday, Leesburg has now moved into fourth place, ahead of the Winter Garden Squeeze and Diamond Dawgs. They are a half game ahead of the Squeeze and 2 1/2 games ahead of sixth place Winter Park.

Not to mention that the Lightning are also just a half game back of third place Altamonte Springs.

“We’re surging at just the right time,” Billings said. “Let’s see if we can keep it going.”

Lightning Starting Lineup

  1. Nixon – 2B
  2. A. Simmons – CF
  3. Scanlon – 1B
  4. C. Simmons – 3B
  5. Long – RF
  6. Bonilla – LF
  7. Baez – C
  8. Koenig – DH
  9. Pagliei – SS

On the mound: Trace Norkus

 

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