The Winter Park Diamond Dawgs fell deeper into a hole last weekend, though not far enough to drop below the Leesburg Lightning in the Florida Collegiate Summer League standings.
Sunday the Dawgs (12-17) hit a sinkhole in what seemed like the bottom of their self-dug pit, when they took a 0-0 pitching duel and watched it turn into a 13-1 battering at the hands of the surging DeLand Suns (16-14). By the end of the fourth inning it was 5-1, but the Suns were just getting started.
The Suns would jack three home runs in the game, plus a double for good measure. The game would make an unlikely hero out of Orlando native Derek Deler, who blasted in seven RBI, just one short of the league record. Deler blasted a bases-clearing double — only his third of the season — and a grand slam, which was his first homer of the season. That offensive outburst ended up tallying half Deler’s RBI on the season in one night.
On the Dawgs’ side of the scorecard, it was an oddly good night for almost every hitter. Eight of the Dawgs’ nine batters got a hit. But only one managed two hits, and the rest spaced them out just perfectly enough to prevent all but a run from scoring. In a game where five of Winter Park’s hitters saw their batting averages rise, they managed to strand six runners.
Meanwhile Eliot Shapleigh, who bore the brunt of the Suns’ aggression, gave up eight hits and eight runs in two innings, but Dawgs starter Benjamin Link took the loss for giving up five earned runs in five innings of work.
The game was revenge long in coming for the Suns, who suffered their biggest blowout loss of the season — and the biggest one delivered by the Dawgs in 2016 — on June 9, when Winter Park teed off in a 15-2 blowout. The revenge win by DeLand Sunday was the biggest blowout the Dawgs have suffered all season.
That was just one of two setbacks to rock the Dawgs over the course of a weekend. The day before they had lost 10-0 to the Sanford River Rats — the second double-digit shutout loss for the Dawgs this year — in a game that was never close. The Rats (20-12) opened up the bottom of the first inning with three runs and never looked back, as the Dawgs managed just four hits and stranded all six base runners.
That was the last time the Rats won a game, as they descended into a two-game losing streak through Tuesday evening, opening the door for DeLand and the Winter Garden Squeeze (16-14), both of which were only three games out of the league lead as of Wednesday.
With 14 games left, the Dawgs have plenty of time to make up for lost ground, but they’ll have to snap out of a season-long funk to do it. They’ve also had a dose of bad luck that may make it tougher to stage a comeback, with three of the last 10 days of the season being doubleheaders thanks to rained out games setting the Dawgs behind the league.
The Dawgs have been in a pattern of one step forward, two steps back for the past few weeks, struggling to put together any winning streaks during that time, while frequently finding themselves dropping pairs of games in a row, even against the league’s weaker teams.
Thankfully for the Dawgs, the Lightning have struggled at the same time. Unfortunately for the Dawgs, most of the teams above them on the league ladder have taken off.
As the season enters its final week and a half, the Dawgs are 6.5 games out of the league lead, but with a faltering Sanford and a league suddenly in flux, there’s still time for the Dawgs, hobbled for the past two seasons, to recover.
The Dawgs aren’t strangers to making late comebacks. Last season they started out one of the worst teams in the league, but came around to force the Sanford River Rats into an elimination game in the playoffs.
The Rats would go on to win the championship last season, but they still lag behind the Dawgs in overall championships.
Coming up for the Dawgs, it’s a doubleheader against the Altamonte Springs Boom (15-15) to make up for a rainout. The first pitch is at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, then at 7 p.m., both at Bishop Moore High School. Friday the Dawgs travel to Lake Brantley High School to face the Boom at 7 p.m. on their home diamond. Saturday the Dawgs continue their Boom-centric series with a 7 p.m. start at Bishop Moore High School.