TAMPA, Fla. – The FGCU baseball team took the field at USF on Tuesday night with heavy hearts. Just hours after the passing of Duane Swanson, who the FGCU baseball stadium is named after, the Eagles put together a gutsy effort en route to a 3-2 victory over the Bulls at the new-opened USF Baseball Stadium.
Swanson, who was presented with Honorary Letter last week from the athletic department prior to the team’s win over Michigan, was one of the pioneers of FGCU’s quick accent into the Division I ranks, Swanson’s involvement with athletics dates back to 2002 when he met with baseball coach Dave Tollett. Since then, Swanson has led the charge in building both the baseball and softball complexes, not only donating generously, but also getting many others to follow in his footsteps. Swanson has also been a consistent donor to the scholarship fund and in 2007 he once again led the charge in building the Outdoor Sports Complex which is home to 11 of 14 FGCU programs.
The win is the fourth in the last five games for the Eagles, who improve to 7-5 on the season. FGCU is now 4-1 all-time against BIG EAST foe USF, including a 3-0 mark in Tampa. USF, who defeated Miami earlier in the season and welcomes No. 1 Florida to campus on Wednesday, falls to 5-6.
The story of the night until the ninth inning was the FGCU pitching staff, which sent three different players to the mound over the first eight scoreless innings.
Holding a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth, FGCU couldn’t fend off the Bulls any longer. After stranding 12 runners over the first eight innings, USF climbed to within one, 3-2, and still had two runners on with no outs. Junior righty Jason Forjet (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Nova HS) got the second out of the inning on a hard liner to center field before senior shortstop Stephen Wickens (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair Secondary) sealed the win with a great play to get the force at second base. Sophomore Kevin Bryant (Homestead, Fla./South Dade HS) got the start on the mound, lasting 3.2 scoreless innings before leaving with runners on in the in the fourth. Freshman Ricky Knapp (Port Charlotte, Fla./Port Charlotte HS) worked out of the jam the fourth and one of his own in the fifth en route to earning his first career win. Junior Jacob Barnes (St. Petersburg, Fla./St. Petersburg HS) was dominant over his three innings (6-8), striking out seven batters while tossing 37 of 56 pitches for strikes.
On the flipside, USF starter Matt Reed lasted 7.1 innings and was the tough luck loser. Stewart struck out three and scattered three runs over his 87 pitches.
Batting sixth and seventh in the FGCU lineup, respectively, freshmen Andrew Valencia (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep) and Sean Dwyer (Leesburg, Fla./Tavares HS) accounted for four FGCU’s seven hits with two each. Dwyer’s third career multi-hit night included his third double of the season. Junior Javi Sujo (Miami, Fla./Miami Sunset HS/Middle Georgia State), batting eighth, drove in two of the team’s three runs.
Both starting pitchers were sharp over the first thing innings, as the first real threat of the game for either team came in the bottom of the fourth with the Bulls at the plate. Bryant gave up a one-out single
The Eagles built off the momentum from Knapp’s strikeout and took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth. Valencia delivered the Blue and Green’s first hit of the game with a single to center field and Dwyer followed with a double down the left field line that hit just inside the first base bag to give FGCU runners in scoring position. Sujo brought in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly to right field that was just deep enough to score a tagging Valencia from third.
The same trio of players gave FGCU a 2-0 lead in the top of the seventh, as two-out singles by Valencia and Dwyer set the stage, again, for Sujo. This time Sujo dropped a single down the right field line and force the second time brought Valencia around to score.
With Bares on the mound collecting strikeouts, the Eagles tacked on what proved to be the game-winning run in the eighth on an RBI single by senior Zach Maxfield (North Port, Fla./North Port HS/Pasco-Hernando CC). Maxfield’s 10th RBI of the season scored Wickens, who opened the inning with his 230th career hit.
FGCU will now turn its attention back to Atlantic Sun play for a big weekend matchup at fellow A-Sun preseason favorite Mercer (11-2, 2-1). First pitch on Friday is slated for 6 p.m.