If the previous month and a half of the summer were a lit fuse, the last week was the implosion for the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs, who watched the bottom drop out of their season.
Four straight Dawgs losses just as the formerly last place Leesburg Lightning (19-20) lit off on their biggest winning streak of the year flipped the bottom of the league standings and put Winter Park (14-22) three games deeper than second-worst Winter Garden Squeeze (17-19), who finally won a game Tuesday after losing five straight.
The chaos that followed Winter Park’s most recent win, a hard-hitting 10-6 anomaly in an otherwise limp-bat season, saw the Dawgs allow double-digit runs in three of four losses.
The first loss of the streak on Friday went scoreless for two and a half innings, then saw nibbles taken out of the scoreboard until the Altamonte Springs Boom blasted things open with a two-run eighth. That came after a rare bout of solid pitching by the Dawgs, whose starter Justin Kortessis and middle reliever Kyle Friday combined for 10 strikeouts in seven innings before watching it fall apart with closer Brian Jimenez.
The next would-be loss started as a promising turnaround for the Dawgs, who leapt out to a 4-0 lead Monday before watching Leesburg fight back to score seven runs in their next two rounds at the plate. That was enough to put away the Dawgs before the second inning had ended, but the damage would continue for another seven.
Even as they tried to fight back with nine runs Monday against the Lightning, Leesburg answered by eviscerating Winter Park’s pitching with 13 runs of their own.
The death blow came on a Tuesday night that finally wasn’t going to rain on Winter Park’s home field. With seven games to go in their schedule, sitting seven games below .500, the Dawgs would need the most improbable streak they’ve ever had to avoid their second straight losing season.
The rally that would derail those hopes started on a four-pitch walk by Winter Park starter Hunter McMahon, who was about to give up his 17th earned run of a two-game series. The walk to Leesburg’s Cornell Nixon put the first of six runners on first base that inning. Five would score, well enough to win the game before the Dawgs even came to bat.
The 20-3 blowout that followed featured seven extra base hits by the Lightning, including center fielder Austin Simmons blasting two doubles and a home run, and designated hitter Michael Koenig, in the game of his life, smashing two homeruns and collecting seven RBI.
Even in such a lopsided loss the Dawgs had their heroes. Chad Wagner, Sam Martin and Jordan Bowersox all smashed doubles. Kyle Friday hit his second homerun of the year. But then the Dawgs stranded an average of one runner per inning, losing out on crucial chances to rally back.
The Sanford River Rats (23-15), who have been running away with the league, still aren’t far enough ahead of the second-place DeLand Suns (19-16) to be safe. And as fate would have it, the Rats play the Suns four of their final six games, giving the Suns an ample opportunity to pull off an upset.
With the league standings as they are right now, and with only a handful of games to go, it’s mathematically possible for the Dawgs to become the first team in Florida League history to end the season as the only team with a losing record.
Luckily for the Dawgs, they’ll face the Squeeze for four of their final six games, giving them a shot to leapfrog them in the standings. After a game Wednesday at press time and a doubleheader in Winter Garden, the Dawgs come home for a 7 p.m. first pitch Friday against the Squeeze. Sunday, their final game of the regular season, the Dawgs host the Rats at 5 p.m. Both games are at Bishop Moore High School.