Winter Park and Sanford have watched other teams circle the bases as they run away with the Florida Collegiate Summer League regular season standings. As of the start of the week, the Diamond Dawgs (10-8) had slid to fourth place in the league and the River Rats (5-13) were narrowly avoiding a tie for dead last.
That’s nearly the opposite of how the season started for the two perennial championship contenders, who briefly flirted with the league lead before being overtaken by a longtime rival and a league newcomer.
The seemingly unstoppable Leesburg Lightning’s (13-4) 10-game winning streak may have come to an end, but they surged to the top of the league in the process. The team to finally rein in their undefeated run, the Diamond Dawgs, needed eight runs to do it.
Not that the Dawgs have been at a loss for crucial hitting this season, with league leaders at or near the top of the batting average, RBI and power hitting categories. That includes Winter Park’s Michael Danner, who continues to blow away the rest of the league with his .422 batting average.
But they’ve had some help from the mound too, with league ace Anthony Figliolia pitching 15 innings without an earned run in three starts to hold an ERA of 0.00. Michael Sylvestri has only allowed two earned runs in four games, striking out a phenomenal 25 batters in 16 innings. Add in Aaron Adams’ 1.80 ERA and Cary Baxter’s 22 strikeouts in 22 innings, and the Dawgs have a prolific starting four.
Even with their struggles while Leesburg ran away with the lead, the Dawgs are only 3.5 games out of first. They could gain a few rungs on the ladder if they can win three big ones this week.
They’ll host two straight games at home at Rollins College’s Alfond Stadium this week, starting with a showdown against the surging Orlando Monarchs (9-6) at 7 p.m. Thursday. The next day they’ll take on the league-trailing Orlando Freedom (4-12) at 7 p.m. They’ll be back in town at 1 p.m. Sunday to face the league-leading Leesburg Lightning.
For the River Rats, weak hitting may be hurting them the most, with only one hitter —second baseman Daniel Seeba — cracking the league top 10 in any major category. Lucky for the Rats, he’s proven a threat all around, hitting for average and delivering key RBIs.
On the mound the Rats have one shining star in Nicholas Gonzalez, whose aggressive pitching style comes right at batters. The result is 22 strikeouts in 16 innings, but 10 runs allowed on 15 hits and 11 walks.
Down 8.5 games and with a bit more than half the season to go, the Rats will need a dramatic turnaround to have a chance at the championship. Their schedule won’t make it any easier in the next few games, as four of their next five are played against the league leaders.
Thankfully three of them are in a three-game homestand, starting with a 7 p.m. showdown against Leesburg on Thursday. Then the Orlando Monarchs come to town at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by a rematch against Leesburg at 7 p.m. Saturday.