LEESBURG, Fla.- An instant classic of a Florida League Division II championship game saw the Winter Garden Warthogs emerge as the 2022 league champions, as Winter Garden toppled the Leesburg Thunder 6-3 at Pat Thomas Stadium on Friday afternoon. Three runs in the top of the eleventh proved to be the difference as Winter Garden earned their second FCSL D2 championship under head coach Jay Welsh, with the first coming as the Winter Garden Tangelos in 2015.
Winter Garden seemed to be in control of the game from the first pitch, building a 3-0 lead after four innings. An RBI single from Max McClusky (Embry-Riddle) and an error on an attempted double play gave the Warthogs a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Another run crossed the plate in the fourth, the product of two errors on the same play from the second-seeded Thunder.
Noah Pridmore was responsible for keeping Leesburg off the board for the first five innings of the contest, as the Carson-Newman product fired five scoreless innings before running into trouble in the sixth. The Tennessee native would likely be considered the playoff MVP for Winter Garden, tossing eleven innings with just one run allowed in the postseason.
Leesburg cut into the Winter Garden lead in the sixth, thanks to an RBI single from Armando Ramirez (New Mexico Military). Ramirez's single plated Ethan Whelan (Chowan) from second after he had led off the frame with a double. Leesburg got the tying run to the plate in the sixth, but could not cash in, sending the game to the seventh with Winter Garden still holding a two-run lead.
An error and a walk put runners on the corners in the bottom of the seventh, and league RBI leader Noah Lukas (West Virginia Tech) came through with a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to one run. After a walk to Ian Anderson (South Florida State) put runners on first and second, KeiJhuan James (Dubuque) tied the score at three with an RBI single, sending the contest to extra innings.
Three extra innings passed without a run, sending the contest to the eleventh. In the top of the eleventh, Winter Garden loaded the bases with two outs, and Michael Chylinski (Emmanuel) came through with the biggest hit of the season, a double down the left field line that cleared the bases and gave Winter Garden the lead for good. Chylinski went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, earning Championship Game MVP honors.
The Lightning got a double in the bottom of the eleventh, but TJ Wayne (South Florida State) slammed the door shut to clinch the title for the Warthogs. Wayne pitched four scoreless innings, entering in the eighth and striking out six Leesburg hitters to secure Winter Garden's victory.
Friday's championship game concluded a successful eleventh season of Florida League Division II baseball, which saw multiple players earn the opportunity to play in the top division of the Florida Collegiate Summer League. The season will officially wrap up Sunday afternoon with the 2022 FCSL Division II All-Star Game, which will be played at Pat Thomas Stadium in Leesburg.