LEESBURG, Fla. – It might seem tough for players from all over the country to come together and gel in the short summer baseball league season, but the Leesburg Lightning players trumped all – bonding in the first couple of days.
Credit goes to first year Lightning head coach Rich Billings.
“One of the things we hit on during the first couple days of practice was the importance of relationships,” Billings said. “I stressed to our guys that you only get so many opportunities to play summer ball and the best relationships come from this.”
That made it a lot easier for the Lightning players to interact and get to know each other.
With it being a long season – 40 games in two months – the Lightning knew they would have their ups and downs.
“We bonded through the ups and downs that we faced as a team,” infielder Josh Pagliei said. “We were raring to go after the All-Star break as we knew we had a chance at the postseason.”
A lot of things clicked for the Lightning in the middle of the season. From July 2 to July 13, Leesburg won eight out of 10 games – taking the lead in the FCSL standings.
“At that moment, we knew we could play,” infielder Doug Teegarden said. “If we continue to play like this, we can beat anybody.”
Leesburg had a tough road after the great start in the beginning of July but it’s what Billings told the guys after the 9-0 loss on July 23 that made Sunday’s trip to the FCSL Championship at Tropicana Field possible.
Billings remembers saying, “We could have gotten new players by the deadline but we didn’t. We chose to stick with you guys and whether you struggled or not, we continued to give you opportunities to perform.”
The locker room got quiet as Billings finished off by saying, “All I’m asking from you is that same commitment in return. Why not go ahead and give us your best effort?”
Leesburg responded to Billings’ call.
Winning games when they needed to, clinching a playoff berth, and sweeping the Altamonte Springs Boom in the best-of-three series to advance to the FCSL Championship Game. One more win would give the Lightning their third FCSL Championship in six championship game appearances.
“This team has definitely gotten closer as the season progressed,” pitcher Call Graham said. “It’s amazing to see.”