Lakeland wins first FSL crown since '92

Flying Tigers break through in eighth in Finals' deciding game

By Ashley Marshall / Special to | September 12, 2012 8:25 PM

The last time Lakeland won the Florida State League championship, Tyler Collins was 2 years old.

It's safe to say he -- and the rest of his Flying Tigers teammates -- will have more vivid memories of this title than the last.

Collins delivered a two-out RBI single to cap a two-run eighth inning Wednesday as Lakeland blanked Jupiter, 2-0, in the decisive fifth game of the FSL Championship Series.

The insurance run, which followed seven three-hit innings by Warwick Saupold, helped Detroit's Class A Advanced affiliate capture its first crown since 1992.

"I have a headache, and that's a good thing, I think," said Collins, the Tigers' No. 16 prospect. "I couldn't be happier. We're so proud and honored to be playing with each other. We're on a natural high.

"We had the Champagne shower and we were throwing beer around. Everyone is having a great time. I've been on the losing end before, and being on the winning end feels much better."

Each of the five games in the Finals were decided by two or fewer runs. Both teams collected 39 hits, with the Flying Tigers outscoring the Hammerheads, 20-18.

The series came down to one inning and one daring decision by veteran Lakeland manager Dave Huppert.

Hernan Perez greeted reliever Rett Varner with a leadoff single in the eighth. Michael Rockett dropped down a sacrifice to move Perez into scoring position and Marcus Lemon worked a walk.

Jupiter brought Michael Brady out of the bullpen to face Dixon Machado, and Huppert called for a double steal. On a 2-1 pitch, Perez took off for third base, with Lemon trailing behind him. Catcher Jake Realmuto's throw went into left field, allowing Perez to score the game's first run.

"When Perez got on, we knew something good was going to happen," Collins said. "He knows how to play the game, he's baseball savvy. When the ball went down the line, we were ecstatic, but he had the bag swiped, regardless of the throw.

"Huppert is as good as they get. You trust him and buy into what he says."

Machado popped out, but Collins followed with a single through the hole to chase Lemon home from second base with a valuable insurance run.

"It was the first pitch. It was a fastball up in the zone," said Collins, a 2011 sixth-round Draft pick. "They had been pounding me away the whole series, so that was what I was looking for."

Jupiter brought the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth after Noah Perio doubled with two outs, but Realmuto tapped softly back to the mound for the final out of the season.

Considering how the series played out, it came as little surprise the championship was decided in the final innings of the final game.

Jupiter held on to win the opener, 6-5, after Lakeland scored five times over the final three frames. The Flying Tigers tied the series with a 15-inning road victory in Game 2.

The Hammerheads got a combined three-hitter in Game 3 to move within a win of the title, but Lakeland drew even again on Tuesday with a 5-3 triumph.

Once the final out was recorded Wednesday, it marked the first time the Flying Tigers led the series.

"I can't thank the team enough. It's a great team and a great organization," Collins said. "We all love each other and we all understand how each other plays. We love the game of baseball and treat it right. When you have that love and passion, it's hard to lose.

"By the time I get to Spring Training, that's when it will sink in. Probably when I get that ring."

The last time Lakeland won the championship two decades ago, it was known simply as the Tigers. The team went a perfect 6-0 in the postseason, sweeping the Baseball City Royals in the Finals.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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