SAINT LEO - Florida Southern's rally fell one run short here Friday evening in its Sunshine State Conference opener against 23rd-ranked Saint Leo as the Lions held on for a 9-8 victory at Thomas B. Southard Stadium.
The Moccasins, who trailed 8-2 heading to the sixth inning, scored six runs over the final three innings, including senior second baseman Chris Dennis (Rockledge, Fla.) and junior right fielder Jhalan Jackson (Winter Haven, Fla.) hitting back-to-back home runs in the ninth inning, to fall to 15-17 overall and 4-9 in the SSC. SLU improved to 29-8 overall and 10-6 in the SSC with the victory.
With the back-to-back homers in the ninth, it marked the first time since March 31, 2012 that the Mocs had hit back-to-back homers in a game. On March 31, 2012, Mike Snyder and Austin Chubb hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader against Lynn.
Trailing 8-2 heading to the top of the sixth inning, the Mocs would pull within 8-3 in the top of the sixth inning as Jackson drilled a Brandon Mumaw over the fence in right field for his team-leading 10th home run of the season and the Mocs would add a second run later in the inning on an RBI double to center off the bat of sophomore first baseman Jason Sierra (Sarasota, Fla.). Sierra's double plated junior designated hitter Blake Swann (Live Oak, Fla.) with the Mocs fourth run of the game. Swann had drawn a two-out full-count walk to keep inning alive.
The Lions, though, would add another run in the bottom of the sixth inning as they used a single and an error to push its lead to 9-4.
FSC would answer with two runs in the eighth to pull within 9-6. In the inning, Dennis walked with one out, moved to second when Jackson was hit by a Mumaw pitch and Swann would reach on a single to load the bases. Sierra would then step to the plate and deliver a two-run single to left that plated Dennis and Jackson with FSC's fifth and sixth runs of the game.
The Mocs would make things interesting in the ninth off of SLU's relief ace, Tyrone Miller. After Miller struck out the first batters to open the ninth, Dennis hit a 2-1 pitch over the right field fence for his second home run of the season and then Jackson followed with his second homer of the game to push the Mocs within a run at 9-8. Jackson's blast hit nearly halfway up the batter's eye in center field. Miller, though, would prevent any more damage as he forced Swann to line out to first to end the game and seal his sixth save of the season.
With his two home runs in Friday's game, Jackson has now hit 11 on the season and recorded his second multi home run game of the season as he also homered twice earlier this season against Mount Olive.
On the night, the Mocs finished with 11 hits, including its 2-3-4 hitters (Sanders, Dennis and Jackson) combining to go 7-for-12 on the night with seven runs scored and four RBIs. In addition, those three combined for four of FSC's five extra base hits in the game.
Sierra also finished the game with three hits in the loss.
The Mocs got on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning on an RBI groundout by Dennis. Dennis' grounder plated sophomore shortstop Shawn Sanders (Citra, Fla.) with the first run as he reached on a one-out triple to left center. The triple was FSC's 19th of the season, which is fourth in the latest NCAA Division II statistics.
FSC's lead grew to 2-0 in the top of the third inning as the Mocs took advantage of a fielding error by Lion leftfielder Nick Perez on a ball hit by Dennis to score the second run of the game and take a 2-0 lead in the game. Dennis' single allowed Sanders to score as he reached on a two-out single to right.
SLU cut FSC's lead in half in the bottom of the third inning thanks to a single, an error and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Dylan Harris to pull within 2-1.
The Lions put its first six hitters on base in the bottom of the fourth and scored five runs to take a 6-2 lead. The big hits in the inning were a 2-run single in shallow left field by Taylor Perez and a two-run single by Dale Irving just in front of a diving Dennis at second base.
Ultimately, the Mocs were done in by SLU's five run fourth inning on Friday night.
SLU pushed its lead to 8-2 in the bottom of the fifth as they plated two more runs thanks to a lead-off homer by Alex Mata and an RBI single by Perez.
The Lions, who recorded 18 hits in the win, was paced offensively on the night by three hits apiece from Harris, Perez, Bobby Twitty and Zach Daley. Nick Perez and Mata each had two hits for the Lions.
Junior Ben Richardson (Orlando, Fla.) took the loss (3-6) for the Mocs on the mound as he pitched seven innings and allowed 16 hits and nine run (seven earned runs), while walking two and striking out two. Sophomore A.J. Smith (Merritt Island, Fla.) allowed two hits in the eighth inning in relief of Richardson, who threw 114 pitches in the game.
Michael Dunnigan (7-3) earned the win for the Lions as he pitched five-plus innings and allowed five hits and two runs, while walking one and striking out four. Dunnigan was replaced two pitches into the sixth inning by Mumaw after suffering an apparent arm injury.
Mumaw pitched 2.1 innings and allowed four hits and four runs, while walking two, hitting two and striking out one. Miller pitched the final 1.2 innings and allowed two hits and two runs, while walking one and fanning three.
The teams will conclude the weekend series by playing a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. at Thomas B. Southard Stadium.