SANFORD, Fla.- For the second year in a row, the Florida League Division II championship came down to extra innings.
And once again, head coach Jay Welsh's team found a way to win the title.
The Winter Park Bulldogs walked it off on an RBI single from Aiken Santana (Embry-Riddle) in the bottom of the eighth, claiming the sixth Division II championship for Winter Park - previous titles had come under the names Warthogs, Angels, and Freedom. The 8-7 victory over the Sanford Monarchs was the third championship for Welsh, who won in 2015 with the Winter Garden Tangelos and 2022 with the Winter Garden Warthogs.
Sanford jumped out to the early lead, going up 3-0 after two innings. Sanford took the lead on the first pitch of the game, when Jalen Hairston (State College of Florida) blasted a home run. The Monarchs added two more in the second, thanks to a Winter Park error and an RBI single from Nathan Nogueras (South Florida State).
Beginning in the bottom of the third, the teams scored runs in five consecutive half innings, with the Bulldogs getting back into the game with six runs. The Bulldogs got on the board with a solo shot from Justin Austin (Rollins) in the third. After Sanford answered with two runs on an Alex Getz (Chesepeake) home run, the Bulldogs scored two of their own thanks to a Ryan Missigman (Rollins) single and a double steal that plated Santana.
Down by three runs with just nine outs to work with following another Sanford run, the Bulldogs fought back to even the score. A three-run bottom of the fifth was keyed by an RBI single from Bryce Fitzgerald (Flagler), as well as a pair of wild pitches. The 6-6 score would remain through seven innings, pushing the game into extras.
Sanford got a run in the top of the eighth, taking a 7-6 lead on an RBI single from Zachary Boykin (Stevens). In the bottom half of the inning, Winter Park tied the game on a wild play, as Yan Rivera (Kentucky Christian) scored from third base, taking the plate while the Monarchs believed the ball had been ruled dead. Several pitches later, Santana walked it off with a single to the left side of the infield.
The championship game concluded a successful 12th 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 championship game matched up the top two teams from the regular season, with Winter Park serving as home team due to winning the regular season pennant.