A single mis-thrown ball caused the only score in the Florida Collegiate Summer League championship game Sunday, bouncing in the dirt and sending the Sanford River Rats’ Aaron Palmer across the plate. The Rats won 1-0 over the Leesburg Lightning in a dramatic pitchers’ duel under the Tropicana Field dome.
The story of the game took place on the mound as Sanford’s Alex House, having been pulled from dominant shutout efforts all season, was given the green light to go all the way. He’d strike out six in a complete game scoreless masterpiece, allowing just four hits in the process.
Leesburg’s Darren Kelly would strike out five in a seven-inning one-hitter before being pulled in the eighth. But by then, after dominating Sanford all night, Kelly’s lone surrendered run from a wild pitch would mark the difference in the game.
Palmer made small ball count, manufacturing a run via a beaning, stolen base, a tag-up and a desperate scamper home after a wild pitch.
For the Rats (26-13-1), who had nipped at the heels of the Altamonte Springs Boom (25-14-1) all season before catching and passing them in the standings in the final two weeks, it was a finish whose conclusion had been building all season.
It was a dramatic departure from the win just two days earlier that propelled the Rats into the championship game. Forced into a win-or-go-home finale to their three-game playoff series against Winter Park (14-22), the Rats went wild in a 13-5 blowout comeback win Friday. Rats right fielder Derlin Martinez, who hadn’t hit a home run all season, lifted one over the wall in the fifth inning. By then the Rats had already pulled off a comeback after being down 4-0 early. From then, the runs just piled on.
Their win two days later, though less dramatic, gave the Rats their third championship in the FCSL’s 12 years and erased the sting of a 6-4 loss to the Diamond Dawgs last year.
For Altamonte Springs, the final weekend would prove a disastrous collapse after a season of near-total dominance on the diamond. After losing their franchise debut to the Winter Garden Squeeze at the start of the season, the Boom leapt out to the league lead in the second week, rarely having to look over their shoulders for Sanford. The Squeeze (8-28) fell apart immediately after that game, needing another four weeks to win a second game.
The Boom held onto the league lead from June 10 to July 22. But the playoffs wouldn’t be kind to FCSL’s newest team. One of the most dangerous offenses in the league all season suddenly sputtered against Leesburg in the playoffs, mustering just four runs in two games, as the Lightning swept the best-of-three series.
The Lightning (22-19), who were ranked third in the league heading into the playoffs, mustered just enough offense to finish off the Boom, but found nothing in Tropicana. They would collect just four hits in the game, not even drawing a walk.
The Dawgs, despite a down year, still hold the crown for most championships, at four.