AVON PARK - The South Florida State baseball team earned its second win of the season last Saturday at Panther Field when the Panthers split a doubleheader against Gainesville's Santa Fe College.
The Panthers overcame a six run deficit in the first game to win 12-11 in extra innings, while a seventh inning rally in the nightcap fell short, as the Saints held on for a 6-5 victory.
"At the end of the day, with the weather conditions being a little something, it was very shaky baseball by both teams," said SFSC coach Rick Hitt. "It was a sloppily played game at times. But I enjoyed watching our guys battle back from six down. We did not pitch very well in the beginning. In the first three innings we hit a lot of bats and they did a very good job offensively."
In the opener, Santa Fe swiftly scored three runs in the top of the first, adding three more in the top of the second to take a commanding 6-0 lead.
South Florida roared back in the bottom of the second thanks to a lead-off double from Justin Tedder, which started a string of six consecutive batters to reach base for the Panthers.
And when the smoked cleared, South Florida tied the game at 6.
The Saints answered the Panthers scoring outburst with four more runs in the top of the third inning to retake the lead 10-6. The inning was highlighted by doubles from Jonathan Camp and Roger Gonzalez, who each drove in a run.
South Florida pitcher Austin Bingham started the fourth inning. Sante Fe loaded the bases with one out as Bingham worked his way through the lineup without giving up a run, closing out the inning with back-to-back strikeouts.
South Florida went on the offensive again in the bottom of the fourth. Austin Johnson led off the inning with a double and Rodney Forbes walked, but the momentum began to stall as the next two batters were retired without out bringing in a run.
Jorge Flores lit the fuse for the Panthers, though, belting a triple into right field that brought in Johnson and Forbes. Flores later scored on an error by the catcher as the Panthers cut the Saints lead to 10-9 after four innings.
After a scoreless fifth, the Saints' came alive once more in the top of the sixth. Bingham recorded the first two outs, then walked two batters before being relieved.
Relief didn't show up with the new pitcher as he walked two batters. The first loaded the bases and the second forced home a run.
The Panthers brought in Harrison McClure to stop the bleeding and ended the inning with a harmless fly ball to left to halt the Saints, who now led 11-9.
But with one out in the bottom of the seventh, a Santa Fe error sparked a South Florida run. Singles by Tedder, Josh Townsend and Damian Boyum drove in two runs to tie the game at 11, sending the game into extra innings.
"All of a sudden, the game stabilized a little bit," Hitt said. "Austin (Bingham) and Harrison (McClure) got us a couple of goose eggs, and the guys kept playing on offense and tying it. The seventh was big for us."
McClure pitched a scoreless inning in the eighth and Dalton Scarborough tossed another donut in the ninth.
SFSC lost an opportunity to win the game in the eighth, as Forbes led off with a single and stole both second and third base with no outs. But the Panthers were unable to drive him in to send the game into the ninth inning.
With two outs and nobody on, Townsend reached base when he was hit by a pitch. After stealing second, he scored the winning run on Boyum's single into right field to clinch a 12-11 Panthers win.
"We have played a really good schedule, we have played a lot of close games," Hitt said. "Unfortunately, we have been on the losing side of a lot of those, so it was really good for our guys to find a way to get this one."
In the nightcap, the Saints took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first. SFSC responded with a run of its own in the bottom of the first on consecutive doubles by Isaiah Dean and Scarborough to knot the game at one apiece.
Austin Johnson started the second inning for the Panthers, belting a double and later scoring on a single by Esual Hernandez. Forbes drove in Hernandez soon after to give SFSC a 3-1 lead.
The Panthers were not able to hold that lead as the Saints scored five unanswered runs. Two in the third off a two run homer by Brady Roberson over the right field fence to tie the game at 3.
Sante Fe added another run in the fourth and added two more in the sixth for a three run lead as the Saints headed into the bottom of the seventh.
SFSC worked the plate and bases as they scored two runs courtesy of a hit batter, two walks and two singles to load the bases with one out as the Panthers now trailed Sante Fe 6-5.
The Panthers brought in Taylor Layner to pinch hit in hopes of tying the game.
Layner, who has been hampered with hamstring problems, hit the ball to the shortstop, who tossed the ball to second for the force out. The second baseman made the pivot to first and fired the ball to first.
With a bang-bang play at first, the umpire indicated an out to end the game, as SFSC fell shy of victory by one run.
"We had a chance," Hitt said. "We were right there. Our guys battled back in the seventh. The guys did things to get the next guy to the plate. Bases loaded with him (Layner) at the dish, you feel like you are in pretty good shape. The call at first went against us. It could have gone either way and they held on."