FORT MYERS, Fla. – Predicted to finish atop the Atlantic Sun standings, the FGCU baseball team will begin its quest for a fourth-straight conference championship as it plays host to Central Michigan in the first of a four-game set at Swanson Stadium on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The series will continue with a Saturday doubleheader at 1 p.m. and a final Sunday meeting at 12:30 p.m.
Three-time reigning A-Sun Coach of the Year Dave Tollett, returns 15 players, including four Atlantic Sun All-Conference performers from last year’s 38-20 (25-5 A-Sun) squad and also welcomes 18 new faces. In the receiving votes section by College Baseball Newspaper and slotted No. 12 in the Southeast Region by College Baseball Lineup, the Blue and Green are set to open the 55-game regular season, which includes 22 road contests, 32 games within the friendly confines of Swanson Stadium and a Hammond Stadium meeting with the No. 18 Miami Hurricanes (April 6).
Voted as the A-Sun Preseason Pitcher of the Year, senior right-hander Richie Erath (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS) will get the game one nod, coming off a junior season that held a 7-4 mark with a 4.42 ERA in 16 appearances with one complete game and one save. In 97.2 innings, he amassed 79 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .268 average en route to a second team All-Conference selection.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles have core group of seasoned veterans anxious to step to the plate this spring. Senior first team All-Conference middle infielders, shortstop Stephen Wickens (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair Secondary) and second baseman Mikel Alvarez (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS) will fill the one and two spots in the lineup. Wickens swiped a team-best 13 bases and Alvarez led the team with a .409 average a season ago. Filling the power portion of the lineup, senior first baseman Zach Maxfield (North Port, Fla./Pasco-Hernando CC) hopes build upon his impressive junior campaign in which he blasted 11 home runs, held a .606 slugging percentage, a .489 on-base percentage and a .366 average on his way to the All-Conference second team.
In a rematch of the 2009 season opener, the Blue and Green greet Central Michigan to the FGCU campus. Picked to finish first the MAC Western Division under the direction of ninth-year head coach Steve Jaksa, the Chippewas’ are looking to improve upon their 36-22 record (20-7 MAC) a season ago.
As part of the 2009 La Quinta Inn & Suites FGCU Invite, the Eagles split the pair of meetings with the Chippewas. The Blue and Green took the opener 4-3, but CMU retaliated with a 19-13 victory in game two, to level the series at one apiece.
In 2010, the CMU pitching staff led the Mid-American Conference in ERA, complete games, and strikeouts per nine innings on its way to a conference championship. Returning from last season’s squad, lefty Trent Howard, who looks to get the Friday start, and southpaw Dietrich Enns, the 2010 MAC Freshman of the Year, highlight a dominant staff.
The Chippewa offense is led by reigning first-team All-MAC honoree Nate Theunissen. The junior finished fifth in the conference last year in batting average (.384) and sixth in on-base percentage (.458) while pacing the Chippewas in RBI (54), doubles (20) and home runs (seven). He also led the Chippewas with 25 multiple-hit efforts, 14 multiple-RBI days and 21 two-out RBI.
With the start of the season comes plenty of special ticket offers and promotions for FGCU fans and students. Little leaguers who wear their jersey get in to all games for free the entire weekend for both baseball and softball. FGCU faculty, staff and students all get in free throughout the season with their Eagle ID.
Fans can also purchase tickets for four baseball games for $12, valid on contests up until March 19. The promotion excludes the Feb. 25th showdown against Illinois and the March 2nd game against Michigan.
FGCU will also be running the “Diamond Dollars” promotion throughout the entire season, which current students are eligible for. Students attending the game will be entered to win $100 if an FGCU player hits the SIP sign on the outfield wall in the air or hits a homerun over the sign. If the game finishes without a winner, the money rolls over to the next game continuing to increase the pot. Winners must have a valid FGCU student ID and be present to win.
Results and recaps from the season opener will be available at www.FGCUAthletics.com following the competition.