SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo baseball team put themselves in a position to go 2-0 after the first day of their NCAA South Region series with the University of West Florida, but a walk-off winner by the Argonauts in Game One gave the hosts an 8-7 win while the Lions used two big, run-scoring innings to hang on to pull out an 8-6 win in the nightcap.
Game One had Saint Leo staring at a 6-1 deficit as the opener moved into seventh inning. The top of the seventh saw the first two Lions reach base and then freshman Dustin Brown unloaded on a Billy Whitaker fastball as he drove it to the deepest part of the park, sending it over the centerfield wall to draw the Lions to within two runs.
After Eric Nickolaison shut the hosts down in the bottom of the inning, Saint Leo would see a carbon copy of the seventh inning performance in the eighth. This time, back-to-back singles had two runners on and Aaron McLamar stepping up to bat. McLamar, who homered in the fifth inning, launched his second blast of the game to left-center field. The three run blast put the Lions up 7-6, as SLU had scored six unanswered runs.
With the lead, the Lions turned to their bullpen, which promptly saw the Argos load the bases with just one out in the eighth inning. After Saint Leo switched pitchers, West Florida’s Brandon Brewer managed to work the count full, and then drew an RBI walk to tie the game.
After getting out of the jamb with a 7-7 score, aggressive base running by Saint Leo came back to cost the Lions as Jason Hamm, who lead the inning off with a single, was caught stealing to put an out on the board. The Lions managed another base runner with two outs, but a staring strike out ended the inning.
West Florida’s half of the inning saw a single, a walk and a bunt single load the bases with no outs. Pinch hitter Blain Ford stepped into the batter’s box and promptly ripped the game-winning single up the middle to give the Argos the lead and the win.
Game Two came down to the first two innings. Saint Leo exploded for eight runs through the first two frames, scoring six in the first and two in the second, which seemed like plenty behind the outstanding pitching performance of Matt Smith. Smith tossed five complete innings and only allowed four hits and struck out six Argos.
Smith surrendered pitching duties to the Saint Leo bullpen in the sixth inning, and that is when the nail-biting started again. West Florida would bat through the lineup in the sixth inning, but somehow only managed two hits and still scored five runs. The unusual line from the sixth was courtesy of three walks, two batters hit by the pitch and an error.
After the Lions went down in order in the top of the final inning they allowed West Florida, still hot from the previous inning, back to the plate. After an initial walk, the Saint Leo coaching staff put in closer Cody Johnson to try and shut the Argos down. An error on what could’ve been a double-play kept the innings going, but Johnson remained unphased and, although a run did score, managed to keep West Florida at bay long enough to hand the SLU win, and pick up the save.
McLamar had a nice day at the plate as he blasted those two Game One homers, managed six RBI on the day and went 3-for-6. Ja Hamm went 3-for-4 in the first game while Eugene Garnett was 2-for-3 with three RBI in Game Two.
For the Lions, senior Reid Tilson (0-1) was strapped with the decision in the opener and Smith (3-2) got the win in the nightcap.
Both teams will close the series out in the rescheduled game that was originally to be played Monday evening. After the rain moved things around, the Lions and Argos with now get things underway tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. EDT. The nine-inning contest will be carried live on the Saint Leo Lions AudioCast Network.