SAINT LEO, Fla. – Saint Leo senior Alex Mata's base hit in the seventh plated what proved to be the game-winning run and lifted the Lions to a 4-3 triumph over Palm Beach Atlantic, in a non-conference South Region matchup Friday night at Thomas B. Southard Stadium.
Mata laced a single up the left field line with no outs in the seventh, scoring sophomore Brett Coffel from second base to break the 3-3 tie. Coffel got aboard with a lead-off walk, and stole second with Mata at the plate.
From there, Saint Leo reliever Oscar Gordillo kept a lid on the Sailfish in the eighth and ninth. An infield single allowed PBA's leadoff batter to get aboard in the eighth, but he was immediately retired with a
5-4-3 double play. After the Sailfish's Ryan Johnson got aboard on an error, Gordillo induced a grounder to first to end the inning.
Gordillo retired the side in the ninth, clinching the win.
The Lions took the lead in the third inning, scoring three runs on three hits and two wild pitches. After a Chase Turner double and Derek Gibree's bunt single, Coffel's RBI double up the middle gave Saint Leo its first run. Mata drew a walk to load up the bases with one out, and a pair of wild pitches allowed Gibree and Coffel to score and increase Saint Leo to 3-0.
Palm Beach Atlantic answered with two back-to-back walks to open the fourth inning, with Jake Summey eventually plating both runners on a double to right-center.
Senior Zach Whitaker came on following the two walks in the fourth, and fanned four Sailfish batters while scattering three hits over his 3 2/3 innings of work. He held PBA to three-up, three-down in the fifth and sixth innings, before allowing the Sailfish to score the game-tying run in the seventh.
"We pitched well. We struggled a little bit early, but something we've talked about since day one is we've got to pitch better, we've got to throw more strikes, and we've got to pick each other up – and that's what Whitaker did," said Sean O'Connor, Saint Leo's head baseball coach. "They finally caught up to us a little bit, but Whitaker was in control the whole time - then he handed the ball to Gordillo, and Gordillo's going to be money in the bank all the time."
"Gordillo knows how to throw strikes, he knows how to change speeds. He's very good."
Saint Leo pounded out 13 hits off Palm Beach Atlantic pitchers, with doubles by Coffel and Turner. Mata, Turner, Mike Mann, and Dylan Harris each finished the night with two hits.
"We hit the ball pretty well tonight, but couldn't get the big hit again; a little bit of concern in that area, is that we can't seem to cash in… when we have a situation where we can put teams away, we're not doing it, and that's been going on for about four or five games," said O'Connor.
"But, we learned how to play in a tight game and we won one. You've got to learn how to win close games, especially in this conference because there's going to be a bunch of them," added O'Connor.
For Palm Beach Atlantic, Summey logged three hits including a pair of doubles, while Kyle Simon had two hits.
Sailfish reliever Christian Denton was tagged with the loss, after allowing Mata's game-winning RBI in the seventh inning.
Saint Leo and Palm Beach Atlantic will complete the three-game series on Saturday, Feb. 24, with a doubleheader starting at 1:00 p.m. at Southard Stadium.
For more information on the Saint Leo baseball program, visit SaintLeoLions.com. Fans can also stay up-to-date on the latest Lions news by following Saint Leo Athletics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.