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West Orange Times & Observer Monday, Jul. 9, 2018 1 year ago

At season’s halfway point, Squeeze hope to climb standings

A memorable comeback against Sanford July 7 lifted Winter Garden into a tie for third place ahead of the Florida League’s All-Star Game.
by: Steven Ryzewski Senior Sports Editor

In a baseball coaching career that has spanned three decades, Jay Welsh has seen some things.

With that said, the way in which his Winter Garden Squeeze won their final game of the first half of this season — a 19-9 victory over the Sanford River Rats July 5 which saw the Squeeze score 15 runs in the final three innings — figures to stick out for some time.

“That was one of the most bizarre games I’ve been involved in in 30 years of coaching,” Welsh said. 

Indeed, Welsh and company are not likely to forget a game during which the Squeeze (10-12-1) scored seven runs in the eighth inning — without recording a hit. Winter Garden had trailed 9-4 through six innings, before scoring one run in the seventh and seven runs, a piece, in the eighth and ninth innings.

The win capped a first half that saw the team struggle mightily out of the gate — the Squeeze lost seven consecutive games after winning their season opener — and rebound by going 9-5-1 since snapping that losing streak.

Keying the turnaround has been the team’s bats.

“The offense has been great this year, it’s been super for the first half — it’s just our pitching has been really suspect this year,” Welsh said.

Statistically, Winter Garden is middle-of-the-pack in the Florida Collegiate Summer League in several categories — the Squeeze are fourth in the league in hits (177 in 23 games) and third in the league in doubles (32), home runs (10) and batting average (.251).

The pitching numbers are a little less friendly — Winter Garden has, for instance, the second-highest ERA in the Florida League (5.71).

Beyond the statistics, though, Welsh says he has a club with players who are engaged each day — even when the rains that come with a Florida summer bump games.

As far as individual success, Aaron Anderson — a sophomore first baseman from Flagler College — leads the entire Florida League in batting average (.427) and hits (32), to go along with six extra-base hits and 14 RBIs.

“He’s a coach’s dream,” Welsh said of Anderson. “He is the first kid at the ballpark and the last kid to leave — and oh, by the way, he leads the league in hitting.”

Where the team has found some success on the mound has been in a pair of familiar faces from years past — returning pitchers Ryan Ashworth and Ryan Welsh. Through 21.1 innings of action this season, Ashworth (Flagler College) has the fourth-best ERA (2.53) in the league and two wins. Welsh, who has been coming out of the bullpen, has 14 strikeouts in nine innings to his credit.

Winter Garden finds itself tied with Winter Park for third place at the season’s halfway point, trailing Leesburg (18-5) and DeLand (12-11) — two teams that the Squeeze will play a combined six games against between July 9 and July 17.

“This next week is a big week for us,” Welsh said. “If we have a good showing against them, we have an opportunity to make up some ground head-to-head.”

Of course, before the Squeeze can make up some ground on either the Lightning or the Suns, they’ll have to first beat them — through seven attempts, Winter Garden has yet to beat either team.

“That’s got to change this week,” Welsh said.

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