Lakeland MLN: King of the Hill

It's been said that, "Any given team can lose any given game in any given day." And, when you're the Lakeland Flying Tigers, who are a half game behind the Clearwater Threshers, that line couldn't sound more promising when you're gunning at the top team!

Since Thursday night, the Flying Tigers had an up and down week against the first place Threshers, and this next week looks to be as challenging with three more Clearwater games on the radar starting Wednesday.

Supported by the pitching strengths of Matt Hoffman, Anthony Shawler and Lester Oliveros, Brayan Villarreal drew first blood in Lakeland with a 4-1 win against the Threshers. Brayan cruised through the first four innings in 1-2-3 fashion, giving up just one hit and a single run in 5 1/3 innings while striking out nine. Add to that a 3-for-4 day by Bryan Pounds with two RBIs, and Gustavo Nunez' two hits/ two scored runs, Lakeland tied the Threshers for first place and set the tone heading back to Clearwater.

The following night in Clearwater, Lakeland bats were silenced as the Threshers ran off with a 10-4 win. Adam Wilk gave up six runs in the first five innings before replacement Tyler Conn gave up the final four runs. In a losing effort, Rawley Bishop drove in Gustavo Nunez twice on a pair of doubles.

THIS close to recapture first place, the Flying Tigers sent Charlie Furbush to the mound for game three in Clearwater. Giving up five runs in five innings, Charlie was replaced by Ramon Garcia who's strong relief support allowed Lakeland to make a ninth inning comeback. Kody Kaiser, Rawley Bishop, Bryan Pounds, and Billy Nowlin all singled to lead off the inning, with Billy Nowlin scoring two RBIs. John Murrian hit into a fielder's choice where they got Bryan Pounds at home, and Carmelo Jaime grounded out to end the game. Pounds went 3-for-4 with a solo home run, and Kody Kaiser went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI.

With a 5-5 record tied for second place, Lakeland returned home to host a three game home stand against Brevard County. Luke Pukonen threw six innings, allowing two hits and a run, while striking out six as he recorded his first win of the season. Lester Oliveros allowed one run in the ninth to preserve the 3-2 win. Gustavo Nunez and Rawley Bishop had a pair of hits, while Alden Carrithers ripped two hits including a double and driving in two runs.

Heavy Lakeland downpour on Monday caused a cancellation of the second of the three game set, but the Flying Tigers came back on Tuesday night scoring four runs in the first off the bats of Kody Kaiser and a triple by Daniel Fields to score Rawley Bishop, Christopher White, and Alden Carrithers. Christopher White would score again in the third off a fielding error by shortstop Brent Brewer, as Mark Sorensen would record his second win of the season with a 1.65 ERA and keep Lakeland within a half game of the first place Threshers.

From here, the 7-5 Flying Tigers begin a three game stretch with the first place 8-5 Clearwater Threshers. With two straight wins fueling Lakeland's momentum, two games in Lakeland [where the Flyers are 4-1] with a middle game in Clearwater should be just what the Flying Tigers need to gain control of the top spot and keep it.

With Clearwater losing their last game, and posting a 2-4 record on the road, the Flying Tigers are favored to, at least, pick up two solid wins at home, and prove against the first place team that "…any given team can lose any given game on any given day."

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