Ninth inning rally lifts CF Patriots over Lake Sumter

The College of Central Florida’s J.C. Mendez (11) gets tagged out at the plate by Lake Sumter State College’s catcher Evan Badger (21) during a baseball game at the College of Central Florida on Monday, March 15, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted March 15, 2021 | By Brendan Farrell, Ocala Gazette

The College of Central Florida’s J.C. Mendez (11) gets tagged out at the plate by Lake Sumter State College’s catcher Evan Badger (21) during a baseball game at the College of Central Florida on Monday. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Marty Smith has been the College of Central Florida’s baseball coach since 1994, but it’s been a long time since he’s seen a game quite like the Patriots’ matchup with Lake Sumter State College.

Trailing 9-4 entering the bottom of the ninth, it seemed like the Patriots were going to drop consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 12. But one single turned into two, and Central Florida rallied from there.The Pats, who had 21 hits total, whacked eight singles in the inning along with a hit by pitch to come back from seemingly impossible odds. It was their second time beating Lake Sumter since March 12.

Kevin Kilpatrick’s single in the bottom of the ninth finally walked it off for the Patriots to give them a wild 10-9 victory over Lake Sumter State College (15-13, 5-4 in conference play) on Monday.

Central Florida (26-6, 5-1), the No. 5 team in the nation, faced its final strike three times in the inning.

“It’s been a while since we’ve scored in the six in the ninth inning, I can’t remember,” Smith said. “Our hitters just did a good job of battling in the ninth inning. That was kind of crazy, but good battles. We got some breaks, couple balls we didn’t hit real hard, but they found holes.”

Lake Sumter pounced on Central Florida starter Shawn Guilliams early, taking a 2-0 lead after two innings. Guilliams allowed two earned runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five innings of work.

While the Patriots trailed early, they had plenty of chances. In the bottom of the first, they stranded two runners on base with just one out in the inning. Then, a double steal play with runners at the corners in the second inning ended with J.C. Mendez being thrown out at home and zero runs in the inning.

Mendez was on the wrong end of another baserunning gaffe in the bottom of the fourth. First baseman Jeslyn Whitehead lined one to right field, where an attempted diving catch came up just short. Mendez, unsure if the ball was caught, hesitated before running home and getting thrown out.

Whitehead ended up scoring later in the inning to bring the score to 2-1 before CF put two more on the board in the bottom of the fifth. With runners on first and second and one out, outfielder Kevin Kilpatrick laced a single to left field, and Lake Sumter left fielder Luke Brown couldn’t handle the ball. The error allowed a run to score and Kilpatrick to advance to third.

Designated hitter Tre Hondras then drove Kilpatrick home to give Central Florida the lead with an RBI single. Another error from Brown on a Mendez single moved Hondras to third. Hondras attempted to take home on a bad throw home, but he was easily tagged out.

After the Lakehawks tied the game at three, the Patriots countered in the bottom of the sixth with a run of their own to give them a 4-3 lead.

It finally all fell apart for the Pats in the top of the seventh. Clayton allowed the tying run to score and was replaced with reliever Troy Britts, who fared even worse. The Lakehawks took the lead on a sacrifice fly and scored another on an RBI single. They capped off the six-run inning with a no-doubt, three-run home run to right field for a 9-4 lead.

Reliever Ben Chestnutt was on the mound for the Pats in the final two innings and kept Lake Sumter off the scoreboard, setting the stage for their furious comeback in the ninth.

“Ben did a heck of a job shutting them out, giving us a chance to win for the last two innings,” Smith said. “Whereas the other guys didn’t, so Ben Chestnutt gives us a lot of credit for keeping us in the ballgame.”

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