Dawgs down Sanford Rats at championship at Tropicana

The Winter Park Diamond Dawgs leveraged superior pitching to down the Sanford River Rats in the championship game. The Dawgs' Alex Kline, pictured, struck out four and gave up two runs in his start at Tropicana Field, but didn't get the decision.

The Winter Park Diamond Dawgs leveraged superior pitching to down the Sanford River Rats in the championship game. The Dawgs' Alex Kline, pictured, struck out four and gave up two runs in his start at Tropicana Field, but didn't get the decision.

Isaac Babcock

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For a brief moment, Sanford looked like it could become a championship team. Two runs in the bottom of the second inning scored on three straight hits and a sacrifice fly sent deep into center field, and the score was 2-1. But not for long.

By that point, all signs had pointed to a Florida Collegiate Summer League trophy. The River Rats had already won the regular season championship, nipping the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs in the final weekend of the season. Then they destroyed the Leesburg Lightning 15-3 and 8-4 in the semifinal best-of-three series in the last week of July, propelled by home runs by Hunter Melton, Jhalan Jackson and Jordan Robinson in just the second game alone. Melton would have six RBI in the series. Robinson knocked in five.

Meanwhile the Dawgs, who had narrowly escaped a 5-4 win over the Winter Garden Squeeze to end the regular season, had no trouble at all demolishing them in the playoffs, taking them down 8-1 and 5-1.

Jonny Ortiz struck out eight for the Dawgs and only gave up four hits in seven innings of work in game one. His catcher, Casey Schroeder, went two-for-four with three RBI on the night. The next day he would blast a double to help his team to an easy sweep, while the Dawgs’ Devin Raftery struck out seven in seven innings, giving up only a hit in the process.

After the drama-free blowouts that characterized every game of the two-semifinal series, the FCSL’s two perennial contenders surfed into Tropicana Field on Aug. 3 riding their own waves of momentum. Both had shown capable of putting up football-size scores while holding opponents to a run or less. For both teams, the odds looked bright.

Then the lights went out. In a rare weather delay in a domed stadium, the Tampa Bay Rays, who played a game right before the FCSL championship, had to suspend their game for nearly half an hour after lightning knocked out power.

It also seemed to knock out a bit of the power from both teams’ bats, as the Rats, who had scored 23 runs in the past two games combined, only plated three until the bottom of the ninth, and the Dawgs, typically given to torrents of runs in a single inning, only saw trickles.

But the Rats’ three early runs gave them the lead for the majority of the game until the Dawgs found their bats again in the sixth inning and got help from two errors to take the a lead they’d never relinquish.

“It was a great game,” FCSL President Rob Sitz said. “The two best teams all year and the two best pitchers.”

Orlando Rivera’s two hits and an RBI led the Dawgs, giving him five RBI for the postseason. Jay Calhoun snagged the 6-4 win from the mound, striking out five in four innings of middle relief. The Rats’ go-to slugger all season, Rock Rucker, struck out twice and never reached base, while Robinson, who had caught fire in the postseason, struck out three times. The Rats would strike out 14 times in the game, four of them coming in the final two innings as they tried for a comeback.

For the Dawgs, who snagged the first back-to-back championships in the ultra-competitive league’s history, it’s another season for the record books. On the losing end of a one-game championship format, the Rats will have to try again next year.

“In baseball, with one championship game you never know what will happen,” Sitz said.