SAINT LEO, Fla. – Head Coach Russ McNickle’s ninth inning gamble paid off in big fashion. The Saint Leo head coach inserted freshman Nick Gill into a two-out, bases-loaded bottom of the ninth inning and, with this Lions down by one run, he stroked a 2-1 fastball into the left-centerfield gap to score the game-winner and send the Saint Leo Lions to a wild 14-13 win over visiting Warner University on Tuesday night from Thomas B. Southard Stadium.
Prior to the game’s final hit, Saint Leo and Warner had put on a hit-show as at least one run was tallied in every inning but the sixth. The scoring got underway when Saint Leo starting pitcher Matt Hewitt had trouble settling down and surrendered four runs to the Royals before the Lions had a chance to bat.
Adding a run in the bottom of the inning, and still trailing 4-1, SLU exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the second inning behind two 2 RBI hits; a single up the middle from Kory Wan and a double to deep left-centerfield by Ryan Powers, to grab control of the game.
With an 8-4 lead, the Lions saw Hewitt surrender two more runs as McNickle was forced to turn to his bullpen to keep the shrinking lead safe. Heading into the top of the fourth with an 8-6 lead, senior Caleb Fuddy made his first appearance of the season and saw Warner load the bases with two outs. Fuddy then made a mistake on a 0-2 pitch to Ryan Carnley, who deposited the pitch over the left field fence for a grand slam and a 10-8 Royal lead.
The Royals added two more runs in the fifth on new Saint Leo pitcher Adam Albers before the freshman settled down to keep Warner at bay.
The Saint Leo bats sparked to life again in the seventh when Powers led off with a single, helping the Lions load the bases. Jovanni Fiallo earned an RBI after he was hit by a pitch and J.C. Suarez walked in another run before an RBI single by Ware Hart cut the visitor’s lead to just 12-10.
Stretching the lead to 13-10, Warner needed just two outs to send the Lions to their fourth-straight loss, but SLU would not go quietly.
Wan led off the last inning with a single up the middle and would eventually score on another single by Hart. Another single by Dustin Brown and Ryan Powers getting hit by a pitch loaded the bases for Saint Leo, down 13-12. In the battle of the evening, Ryan Brnovich fought off an 0-2 count and earned a bases-loaded walk to draw the Lions even.
With Saint Leo on the cusp, McNickle pulled starting designated hitter Myron Kirchner from the lineup and inserted Gill, who hopped off the bench and into Lions’ history.
In a lineup that saw four starters get multiple hits, the Lions were led by Powers, who went 3-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored. Hart would go 3-for-5 with two RBI and Wan finished 2-for-4 with two RBI as well.
Carnley was one of two Royals who notched five RBI in the loss as he went 2-for-3 with the big blast.
Out of all the runs and lead changes, the Lions’ final pitcher of the night, junior Matt Smith (1-0), picked up the win, tossing the final inning.
Anthony Machado (1-3) picked up the loss for the visitors as he gave up the game’s final run on the Gill game-winner.
Saint Leo will now travel to Tampa to face the Spartans in a non-conference matchup on Wednesday night. First pitch is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. at Sam Bailey Field on the UT campus.