JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The FGCU baseball team was successful in claiming their third consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship on Friday evening at Sessions Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. Prior to the 10-4 victory over the Dolphins, the Eagles needed just one win or a UNF loss to earn the regular season crown.
Currently 42nd in RPI, FGCU improved their record to 33-16 (21-4 A-Sun), while Jacksonville dropped to 22-24 (11-10 A-Sun) on the season. Picking up the A-Sun Conference Championship for the third consecutive year, the Eagles hold an all-time record of 69-19 in A-Sun conference contests.
“To win three straight championships is amazing and our team is thrilled,” said head coach Dave Tollett. “We know what goes into winning a conference championship and I think it says a lot about our program and the character of our kids.”
Recently placed in the top 25 for the National Pitcher of the Year Award, junior Chris Sale (Lakeland, Fla.) started the evening on the mound for the Eagles. Throwing seven innings, the lefty improved to 9-0 on the year after allowing two earned runs on six hits to go with 14 strikeouts and no walks in the win. Sophomore Jacob Barnes (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and junior Jack Wagoner (Berlin, Conn.) finished the final two innings, as Barnes allowed two earned runs and Wagoner recorded three strikeouts.
“Sale was good tonight. Although he didn’t have his best stuff, he was still able to accumulate 14 strikeouts,” said Tollett.
Matt Loosen (3-3) was credited with the loss after starting the evening on the mound for the Dolphins. Throwing seven innings, Loosen allowed six earned runs on eight hits and recorded six strikeouts and four walks.
Named a quarterfinalist for the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award, junior Steven Wickens (Whitby, Ontario) started the game off with a double to right center field, and advanced to third on a groundout to second base. Junior Tim Roberson (West Palm Beach, Fla.) brought home the first run of the game, scoring Wickens on a groundout to the shortstop (1-0).
The Blue and Green increased the lead in the top of the third inning following a double down the left field line by junior Austin Gaines (Dunedin, Fla.). Gaines moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore Joe Guarnaccia (Weston, Fla.) and came across the plate on a single to left field by Wickens (2-0).
Jacksonville would have runners on second and third with one out in the home half of the third frame. A groundout to shortstop allowed Chuck Opachich to cross the plate from third, narrowing FGCU’s lead to 2-1.
Senior Josh Chester (Weston, Fla.) singled through the right side to start off the visitor’s side of the fourth inning. Junior Zach Maxfield (North Port, Fla.) drew a full count walk and a sacrifice bunt by junior Luke Smierciak (Gainesville, Fla.) put runners on second and third with one out. Later in the inning, Gaines sent a 1-2 pitch into right center for a two RBI double, scoring Maxfield and Chester and doubling the Eagles run total (4-1).
Singles by Alex Martinez and Alex Swenson put runners first and second with one out in the bottom of the fourth stanza. Third baseman Jimmy Howick sent a double down the left field line to plate Martinez and move the score to 4-2.
The Eagles moved another runner across the dish in their half of the fifth. Wickens led off the inning with a double down the left field line and moved to third on single through the left side by Roberson. A wild pitch moved runners to second and third with one out, and Chester moved Wickens home on a sacrifice fly to right field (5-2).
Wickens improved the FGCU lead to 6-2 in the top of the seventh frame, plating his third run of the contest. The shortstop started the inning with a hit-by-pitch, moved to second on a groundout and stole third before coming across on a sacrifice fly to right field by Chester (6-2).
The Dolphins moved two runs home in the bottom of the eighth inning. The home team found the bases loaded when a wild pitch plated Jamaal Hawkins from third. A sacrifice fly later in the inning allowed Dan Gulbransen to cross the plate and cut the Eagle lead to a two-run advantage (6-4).
Responding with four runs on four hits in the top of the final frame, the Blue and Green pushed the score to 10-4 before retiring the side in the final half inning to pick up the victory and the 2010 A-Sun regular season crown.
The Eagles moved home 10 runs on 13 hits in the contest, and were led offensively by Wickens’ 3-for-4, three run, one walk and one RBI performance, and Gaines’ 4-for-5, one run, three RBI outing. Roberson went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI, while Chester and Maxfield each went 1-for-2 with a two runs scored as Chester plated two RBI. Additionally, Smierciak batted 1-for-4 with a run scored and two RBI.
Jacksonville scored the four runs off six hits on the evening.
The three-game conference series will conclude on Saturday with a double header scheduled for a 1 p.m. first pitch.