FORT MYERS, Fla. – A three-game clash between the Atlantic Sun preseason co-favorites is set to unfold over the weekend, as the FGCU baseball team heads to Macon, Ga. to take the field with the reigning A-Sun tournament champion Mercer. The schools were tabbed as the conference teams to beat, according to the league coaches’ vote heading into the season.
The Eagles head into the contest with a 7-5 (2-1 A-Sun) record and are coming off a 3-2 defeat of USF on Tuesday evening, a victory that meant more than just a win to the program. Just hours after the passing of Duane Swanson, whom the FGCU baseball stadium is named after, the Blue and Green put together a gutsy effort to defeat the Bulls at their new-opened USF Baseball Stadium.
On the hill this weekend, FGCU plans to use a rotation featuring senior right-hander Richie Erath (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS), freshman lefty Brandon Bixler (Oviedo, Fla./ Hagerty HS) and senior righty Jack Wagoner (Berlin, Conn./ Northwest Catholic/St. Petersburg), respectively, in the three contests. Erath, the A-Sun Preseason Pitcher of the year, holds a 1-0 mark with a 3.86 ERA that includes 15 strikeouts and an opponent batting average of .292 in 18.2 innings pitched. Bixler has worked 10 innings on the bump, accumulating 12 strikeouts in three appearances, while Wagoner has tallied 15 K’s in 16 frames.
Offensively, the Blue and Green are led by the senior duo of first baseman Zach Maxfield (North Port, Fla./North Port HS/Pasco-Hernando CC) and shortstop Stephen Wickens (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair Secondary). With a team-high .362 average, Maxfield also has team-bests in RBI (11), doubles (5), home runs (2), total bases (28), slugging percentage (.596) and on-base percentage (.483). Swiping three bags, Wickens leads the squad with 11 runs scored, holding a .321 average and five RBI with a .410 on-base percentage.
Mercer brings an 11-4 (2-1 A-Sun) mark into the three-game set with the Eagles. In their most recent outing, the Bears hosted Georgia, falling in the contest, 8-6, on Tuesday. Opening the A-Sun slate, Mercer took two of the three games with Belmont in Nashville.
The Bears have six players with batting averages above.300 and have already hit 29 home runs on the year. Joe Winker leads Mercer with a .500 average and seven round-trippers, and has also recorded a squad-leading 24 RBI and a 1.132 slugging percentage. Starting all 15 games, Thomas Carroll has a .424 average with 20 RBI and 19 runs scored.
Through the trio of contests, Mercer will utilize a rotation of right-hander Matt McCall on Friday, southpaw Brandon Love for Saturday and righty Justice French in the final contest. Through three starts, McCall is 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA, striking out 15 batters faced in 20 innings on the mound. Love holds a 3-0 record with a 0.95 ERA, 19 K’s and just two runs allowed in 19 innings pitched, while French has a 2.87 ERA with 12 strikeouts and a 2-0 record in 15.2 innings on the hill.
The Eagles hold a 7-2 all-time record against the Bears, including a 2-1 mark in Macon. In last year’s meeting at Swanson Stadium, the Blue and Green took the series opener 9-1 and split the following day’s doubleheader (L 5-4, W 6-4). FGCU holds an all-time tally of 75-21 against A-Sun opponents.
The Eagles and Bears are set to compete in the opening contest on Friday and follow with a Saturday game, each at 6:00 p.m. The final contest is scheduled to have a 1 p.m. first pitch on Sunday. Live stats, results and recaps from the weekend contests will be available at www.FGCUAthletics.com.