The Leesburg Lightning's (25-10) outstanding play has impressed more than just the baseball fans around Central Florida. The Lightning are ranked 25th in the nation according to a poll by Perfect Game.
The second place Winter Park Diamond Dawgs (20-10-1) have been battling Leesburg for the top spot in the Florida League the entire summer. With two games left between the two teams, the Lightning have created a small cushion as they lead the Diamond Dawgs by two and a half games for first place after beating the defending champions, 6-4, in a crucial game Monday night in Leesburg at Pat Thomas Stadium.
The DeLand Suns (18-17), Orlando Freedom (13-20), Sanford River Rats (11-20-1), and Winter Haven Loggerheads (11-21) are all in a race of their own. The third place Suns are four games ahead of Freedom, who had won back-to-back games before falling to the River Rats, 6-5, in 10-innings at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium on Monday (see story elsewhere in this section).
After two full months of baseball, the Florida League standings and playoff hopefuls may come down to one Sunday full of games on the 31st of July, the last day of the regular season.
Here are the standings coming into Week 8 (through Sunday, July 24):
FLORIDA LEAGUE STANDINGS
1. Leesburg Lightning, 24-10.
2. Winter Park Diamond Dawgs, 20-9-1, 1.5 games behind.
3. DeLand Suns,18-17, 6.5 games behind.
4. Orlando Freedom, 13-20, 10.5 games behind.
5. Sanford River Rats, 11-20-1, 11.5 games behind.
6. Winter Haven, 11-21, 12 games behind.
A few individual players had dominating performances on the diamond.
Although Pitcher of the Week is usually reserved for a single player, two players this past week had performances so impressive that the award could not be handed out to only one of them.
In a league that has a pitch count limiting pitchers to a maximum of 99 tosses per game, complete games are few and far between: not this week. Both Nic Kovacs (Lake-Sumter CC) of the Leesburg Lightning and Jairo Acevado (Bethune-Cookman) of the DeLand Suns threw complete game, shutouts this past week.
Acevado went the distance last Thursday while striking out four, walking one and only allowing two hits. The senior righthander was efficiently dominant throwing around 65 pitches through seven innings before finishing the game in the 9th to earn his third victory of the year.
Kovacs had an equally dominating Sunday evening. The sophomore from Lake Sumter CC struck out five, walked one and scattered five hits to grab his league leading fifth win of the summer. Kovacs also tossed six innings earlier in the week to earn a victory. Kovacs totals for the week: 2 wins, 7 strikeouts, 1 walk, 1.80 ERA.
The Player of the Week voting was also tight, but one player proved to be slightly more successful then the rest of the candidates.
The Winter Haven Loggerheads are in a heated playoff race which adds to the value of the hot hitting tear Andrew Sterling (Dickinson College) has been on the past seven days. The senior outfielder's 12 hits, seven RBI and four stolen bases make him this week's Player of the Week.
The individual team winners are as follows:
WINTER HAVEN LOGGERHEADS
Player _ Andrew Sterling (Dickinson): .500 avg., 12 hits, 7 RBI, 4 SB.
Pitcher _ Bryan Poland (Benedictine College): 1-0, 1.50 ERA, 6 IP, 4 strike outs.
WINTER PARK DIAMOND DAWGS
Player _ Alex Cruz (Georgia Tech): .588 avg., double, triple, 4 RBI, .765 slugging percentage.
Pitcher _ Brad Renner (Hillsborough CC): 1-0, 0 R, 8 IP, 5 strike outs.
SANFORD RIVER RATS
Player _ Ian MacGeorge (Embry-Riddle): .333 avg., 3 runs, 3 SB.
Pitcher _ Ryan Heinz (George Washington): 1.50 ERA, 6 IP, 7 strike outs, 0 walks.
Player _ Brandon Turner (Bethune-Cookman): .333 avg., 2 doubles, 3 SB.
Pitcher _ Jairo Acavedo (Bethune-Cookman): 1-0, CG-SHO, 0 R, 4 strike outs, 2 hits.
Player _ Chase Durham (Howard College): .429 avg., double, HR, 6 RBI.
Pitcher _ Nic Kovacs (Lake-Sumter CC): 2-0, 1.80 ERA, 15 IP, 7 strike outs, 1 walk, CG-SHO.
LEESBURG THUNDER WINS INAUGURAL FUTURES LEAGUE SEASON
The first season of the Futures League wrapped up on Saturday with the Leesburg Thunder (16-4) winning the championship game over the DeLand Mavericks (6-14) after a come from behind win in the bottom of the 9th inning.
Leesburg was atop the Futures League standings the entire season and was the team to beat coming into the tournament after earning the #1 seed. DeLand was the last seed coming into the tournament but played like a #1 seed by knocking off #2 Windermere to earn a chance at the championship.
The championship game was exciting to the very end. DeLand's Eric Bauer and Leesburg's Stetson Nelson both pitched 7 innings in a classic pitcher's duel. DeLand went up 3-1 in the top of the 8th, but Leesburg fought back in the bottom of the 9th to earn the walk-off victory on their home turf.
Mark Vidal of Windermere won the batting crown batting putting together an excellent season with a .417 average with 2 home-runs, 6 doubles and 16 RBI. James Lang and Stephen Gates of Leesburg were not far behind boasting a .415 and .400 average respectively.
On the mound, Greg Matthews of Leesburg finished 4-0 with a 0.74 ERA and 36 strike-outs in 36.1 innings pitched. Josh Ganus of Winter Park also impressed by striking out 64 batters in 39.1 innings pitched and finishing with a record of 3-1.
THIS WEEK IN THE FLORIDA LEAGUE
The Boys and Girls Club Championship Tournament was held this morning (Monday) at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium. Florida League coaches, players, and interns have helped coach five teams comprised of kids from different Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the summer. The Ken Griffey Jr. League has an annual end of the year tournament in Sanford each year to celebrate the summer full of baseball.
Thursday the 28th is going to be an exciting night at Orel Hershiser Field at the First Academy for the game between the Orlando Freedom and the Leesburg Lightning.
The 28th will be Local Heroes Night in Orlando. Local policemen and firefighters will be attending the game in recognition of their efforts and sacrifices to keep the community safe. Local Heroes Night will be catered by Ale House. Fans will have a choice of zingers, burger, or chicken sandwich along with fries, drink, and a Captain Jack's Dessert for only $10. The $10 purchase also includes admission to the game.
Along with Ale House and the local policemen and firefighters, there will be two additional special guests attending the game. The symbol of the United States, a bald eagle will be present at the game Thursday night along with former President of the United States of America, George W. Bush. Don't miss your chance to watch great baseball, eat great food, and see George W. Bush and a bald eagle all at one location: Orel Hershiser Field in Downtown Orlando Thursday the 28th.
Only one week remains in the regular season. Head out to the ballparks while you still can!
For any additional information on schedules, stats, or promotional nights go to FloridaLeague.com or call the league office at 321-206-9174.