LAKELAND - Florida Southern scored two runs in the fourth inning to take a 2-1 lead over the Detroit Tigers in its annual exhibition game here Monday afternoon at Joker Marchant Stadium, but the Tigers would answer with six runs in the bottom of the fourth en route to posting a 12-2 victory over the Moccasins.
It was the first time the Mocs had scored a run against the four-time defending AL Central Champions since 2012 when they fell 12-1 to the Tigers. Detroit had shutout out the Mocs the last two seasons as they posted an 11-0 win in 2013 and a 12-0 win last season. Monday's game was the 29th all-time meeting in the series that began in 1979.
"It is special playing the Detroit Tigers. I'm definitely thankful that the Tigers and the city of Lakeland still allow us to play the game," Moccasin head coach Lance Niekro said following Monday's contest. "Odds are, not many of these guys will ever get the chance to even have the opportunity to move onto the next level. This game in general, being able to do it once a year, it's fun for us to come out and be on the same field as these guys."
Junior Ben Richardson (Orlando, Fla.), who got the start on the mound for the Mocs, retired Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias and J.D. Martinez in order to open the game. In the second inning, sophomore Craig Savage (Apopka, Fla.) retired Yoenis Cespedes, Rajai Davis and Nick Castellanos in order.
"I wanted to throw another inning. To get the first one (out) is great, and once the next batter steps in the box, it's a completely different game," Richardson said about his 1-2-3 first inning. "This is something that all of us will always remember (playing the Tigers). We get to do it every year and a lot of teams around the country never get to do it. It's something special."
In the third, Detroit would score the game's first run as they took advantage to two Savage walks, a fielder's choice and a run scoring single by Andrew Romaine. Romaine's single made the score 1-0.
The Mocs, though, would respond in the fourth inning off of Detroit reliever Kyle Ryan as they recorded two hits and scored two runs to take a 2-1 lead. In the inning, senior third baseman Chris Dennis (Rockledge, Fla.) led off with a single and would score one batter later on an RBI double to left center by junior rightfielder Jhalan Jackson (Winter Haven, Fla.). Jackson would then move to third on a groundout by junior first baseman Blake Swann (Live Oak, Fla.) and scored the game's second run on a groundout by junior designated hitter Dominic Brugnoni (St. Clair Shores, Mich.).
"I was going to ask (Detroit manager) Brad (Ausmus) if he didn't mind if we just stopped the playing then and we could get the win," said Niekro with a chuckle when asked about his team taking the lead in the fourth inning. "It's all in good fun, though."
Detroit, though, would come roaring back in the bottom of the fourth as they sent 10 hitters to the plate and scored six runs off of senior hurler Austin Barnett to take a 7-2 lead. In the inning, Barnett walked two and allowed five hits in the inning, including run scoring doubles by James McCann and Hernan Perez.
Barnett allowed five hits and six runs in the fourth inning, while walking two and striking out none to earn the loss.
In the fifth, the Mocs put its first two runners on base thanks to back-to-back walks issued by Omar Duran, before Duran got out of the jam by inducing senior leftfielder Kyle Richards (Groton, Conn.) to hit into a double play and then getting junior centerfielder Sam Machonis (Tampa, Fla.) to line out to short to end the inning.
The Tigers pushed its lead to 8-2 in the fifth inning as Austin Green was hit by pitch from senior Casey Eskew (Sarasota, Fla.) with the bases loaded.
Detroit's lead increased to 9-2 in the sixth ininng thanks to an RBI single off the bat of pinch hitter Wynton Bernard off of junior hurler Jason Carmichael (Cape Coral, Fla.), who made his season debut in Monday's game.
The Tigers would complete the scoring in the seventh inning as they sent eight hitters to the plate and recorded five hits and scored three runs, including scoring the 10th run of the game on a wild pitch from Moccasin junior pitcher Stephen Brooks (Glen Allen, Va.).
For the game, the Mocs got five hits from five different players as in addition to Dennis and Jackson, the other Moccains hits were recorded by senior second baseman Trevor Freeman (Shalimar, Fla.), senior catcher Joey Miller (Sarasota, Fla.) and senior shortstop Casey Eddinger (Crawfordville, Fla.).
Miller's single in the third was the first hit of the game for either team.
Ryan, who is an Auburndale, Fla., native, was the winning pitcher for the Tigers as he pitched two innings and allowed three hits and two runs, while walking one and striking out one.
Tim Melville started on the mound for Detroit and the 6-foot-4 righty, who pitched in Double A last season with Northwest Arkansas, threw two hitless and scoreless innings and struck three of six batters he faced.
The Tigers finished the game with 15 hits as they hit three doubles and drew seven walks from seven Moccasin pitchers. Avery, Bernard and Arvicent Perez each had two hits for Detroit as those three players went a combined 6-for-6 at the plate with three runs scored.
On the day, the Mocs used seven pitchers as in addition to Richardson, Savage, Barnett, Eskew, Carmichael and Brooks, sophomore A.J. Smith (Melbourne, Fla.) pitched a scoreless eighth inning. FSC's pitchers combined for seven walks and two strikeouts on the day.
The Tigers seven pitchers combined to record 11 strikeouts and three walks in the game that took a little under three hours to play.
FSC will return to action this coming Wednesday, March 4 as they travel to St. Augustine for a 6 p.m. non-conference game at Flagler.
(See photos from this game on Facebook)