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#22 Fire Rally Late to Top Cougars 5-4
Clearwater traveled to Lakeland, Florida to play a doubleheader against NAIA nationally ranked #22 Southeastern University. The Cougars entered Tuesday's games with an 11-16 record and winners of the past two contests, while the Fire came in with a 29-12 record.
SEU took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first after left fielder Aaron Sheaks hit a one out double and scored later in the inning with two outs on an error.
The Cougars responded in the top of the fourth inning after the first three hitters reached base. Freshman Nathan Stanley and senior Jefte Velez hit back to back singles to start the inning, and then senior Joel Felten reached on a bunt single, which knocked in Stanley on the play to tie the game at 1-1. Clearwater took the lead in the fourth on a squeeze play from freshman Austin Yeoman, scoring Velez, and giving the Cougars a 2-1 advantage.
The top half of the fifth got off to a start just like the fourth for Clearwater. Freshman Nick Abbruzzese hit an infield single and was followed by a bunt single from freshman Gabe Gali. After a successful sac bunt to put runners at second and third with one out, Stanley hit a sacrifice fly that scored Abbruzzese from third and advanced Gali ninety feet to third base. Velez, who finished 2-3 with an RBI, run scored, and a stolen base, drove in Gali with a single of his own, making it 4-1.
The Fire closed the gap to 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning after recording three base hits in the inning. The two runs in the fifth for SEU closed the book on Cougars starting pitcher Will Kirby, who threw five innings, allowed three runs with just one being earned, scattered eight hits, walked one, and struck out three. He didn't receive a decision.
After Clearwater was retired in order in the top of the sixth, the Fire carried the momentum into their half of the inning. Third baseman Corbin Weeks hit a lead off double off of sophomore Stephen Martin, who came in relief of Kirby. Martin induced a ground ball that advanced Weeks to third with one out and then struck out the next hitter for the second out of the inning. Martin issued a walk to shortstop Stetson McCollin, just his fourth free pass allowed this year, to put runners at the corners with two outs. McCollin stole second but with the Cougars defense anticipating a double steal, the throw down was cut off early and made an attempt to throw out Weeks at the plate, but he made it in safely to tie the game. Then with McCollin in scoring postion, first baseman Bryan Muniz singled him home to take a 5-4 lead. Muniz finished 3-4 with an RBI and a stolen base.
Southeastern's closer Tyler Murphy (S, 11) shut down the Cougars in the top of the seventh to give the Fire their thirtieth win of the year. Martin (3-4) took the loss for Clearwater.
The Cougars drop to 11-17 on the year.
NOTES: Velez recorded his third multi-hit game of the season...Cougars sixth one-run loss in 2014.
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