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Serna sets off fireworks early in “4th of July” thriller

Jared Serna and Brenny Escanio celebrate after Serna launched the go-ahead 2-run HR in the eighth inning against Daytona. (Mark LoMoglio)
July 3, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. - The Tampa Tarpons (4-5) brought the fireworks on and off the field Monday night against the Daytona Tortugas (7-2) in what felt like the game of the year at GMS Field. Both starting pitchers had their way, only giving up one run each. The Tarpons won the

TAMPA, Fla. - The Tampa Tarpons (4-5) brought the fireworks on and off the field Monday night against the Daytona Tortugas (7-2) in what felt like the game of the year at GMS Field. Both starting pitchers had their way, only giving up one run each. The Tarpons won the battle of the bullpens thanks to SS Jared Serna and RHP Cole Ayers. Serna sent the crowd into a frenzy, launching the go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth. Ayers walked a tightrope in the ninth, working his way out of an inherited bases-loaded jam, to give Tampa the victory.

RHP Baron Stuart (6.2IP, 5H, 1R, 2BB, 5K, HR) pitched his best game of the season Monday night against Daytona. He pitched a season-high 6.2 innings, lowering his ERA to 4.96. Stuart kept the Tortugas guessing at the plate, evenly mixing up the three-pitch mix of his sinker, fastball, and slider. The slider was the pitch that had Daytona hitters whiffing, generating a whiff rate of 56%. When manager Rachel Balkovec pulled Stuart in the seventh, the crowd arose to give him a well-deserved standing ovation.

Daytona crossed the plate first in the fourth. Sal Stewart launched his seventh home run over the wall in right-center field. The round-tripper traveled 389 feet to give the Tortugas a 1-0 lead.

All the Tarpons needed was one swing to tie the game. 1B Ronny Rojas supplied the power, launching the game-tying solo shot to right field. The fans were in awe of the homer as they watched it land 401 feet later.

LF Felix Negueis came within inches of giving Tampa the lead in the eighth, but Ariel Almonte made a sensational leaping play at the wall in right field. Following the web gem, Rojas walked to bring up Serna. Serna saw three straight pitches out of the zone, but that did not stop Balkovec from giving him the green light. Serna turned on a 3-0 fastball, putting it over the left field wall to give Tampa the two-run edge. Serna admired his FSL-leading fourteenth home run of the season, tossing his bat to the sky and turning to the Tampa dugout to let out a lion’s roar.

RHP Manny Ramirez came in for the save but had little command of his arsenal. He walked Victor Acosta, Yerlin Confidan, and Michel Triana to load the bases with Tortugas. With one out and the top of Daytona’s order coming up, Tampa called on Ayers to diffuse the fire. The first batter he faced, Carlos Jorge, bounced one right back to Ayers for the second out but pulled Daytona to within one. With the tying run on third, and the go-ahead run on second, Ayers struck out Daytona’s best hitter, Hector Rodriguez, with a cutter in on his hands to pick up the save and give the Tarpons the win of the year.

The Tarpons will head to Dunedin for a Fourth of July matchup with the Blue Jays. RHP Leonardo Pestana will toe the slab, with first pitch set for 6:30 p.m.