Eagles Fall to No. 1 Florida, 4-2, in Close Series Opener
Friday, March 09, 2012 | by Caleb Baker (@calebaker)
Photo by Dennis Snyder
Photo by Dennis Snyder
Florida Gulf Coast (6-6)
#1 Florida (13-1)
3/9/2012 | Gainesville, Fla. | Attendance: 3001
Florida Gulf Coast000200000270
Win: Rodriguez (3-0) 0.200001
Loss: ANDERSON (1-1) 1.022201
BEDNAR (FGCU) 402000
P. Tucker (UF) 412000
Zunino (UF) 422402

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Keeping the nation’s No. 1 team out of the runs column for over half the game wasn’t enough, as the FGCU baseball team fell to Florida, 4-2, on Friday evening in game one of the three-game weekend series at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.

“I was very impressed with the way we played this evening,” said head coach Dave Tollett. “We battled tonight with the No. 1 team in the country and were right in the game for nine innings. This is certainly a positive moving forward and we get another chance to come out and battle again tomorrow and Sunday.”

The loss evens the Eagles’ record at 6-6, while the Gators improve to 13-1 and extend their winning streak to 11 games.

Highlighting the evening was another strong start by sophomore right-hander Ricky Knapp (Port Charlotte, Fla./Port Charlotte HS). Squaring off with his third-straight BCS opponent, Knapp went seven innings and allowed two runs on five hits, adding a strikeout and his first walk of the season. Through four appearances this season, the Port Charlotte, Fla. product holds a 2-1 record and owns a 2.28 ERA with 11 strikeouts and one walk, while holding opponents to a .224 average through 23.2 innings on the mound.

Sophomore Andrew Valencia (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep) gave the Eagles a 2-0 lead over the top-ranked Gators on a two-run longball in the visitor’s side of the fourth inning. Classmate Sean Dwyer (Tavares, Fla./Tavares HS) opened the inning with a hard single up the middle, and later in the frame with two outs Valencia laced a 1-2 delivery into the Rowdy Reptile student section in left field for his first home run of the season.

The Eagles shutout the nation’s top team through the first 5.1 innings, marking the longest scoreless stretch to begin a game this season for the Gators. However, the Gators leveled the contest in the home side of the sixth on a two-run home run by preseason All-American catcher Mike Zunino over the left center field wall.

In the eighth inning, the Gators took a two-run lead which they would never relinquish. Replacing Knapp on the mound with the score tied at 2-2, freshman Brady Anderson (Arcadia, Fla./DeSoto County HS) opened the frame with a lineout to centerfield and strikeout. Preston Tucker followed with a single down the right field line and came around to score shortly after on another two-run homer by Zunino.

The Eagles scored two runs on seven hits and one Florida error. Valencia led the Green and Blue at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and two RBI. Sophomore Brandon Bednar (Stuart, Fla./South Fork HS) went 2-for-4 on the night, while Dwyer finished 1-for-4 with a run scored. Anderson (1-1) was issued the loss in the game for FGCU after tossing one inning, allowing two runs on as many hits with one strikeout.

Florida plated four runs on seven hits in the contest. Entering in relief of starter Hudson Randall and throwing 0.2 innings, Steven Rodriguez (3-0) picked up the victory for the Gators while recording one strikeout.

The two teams will be back in action on Saturday beginning at 4 p.m. at McKethan Stadium for game two of the series. Sophomore lefty Brandon Bixler (Oviedo, Fla./Hagerty HS) will take the mound for the Eagles, while junior southpaw Brian Johnson is expected to throw for Florida.

Probable Starters
Saturday, Mar. 10 – 4:00 p.m.
FGCU – LHP Brandon Bixler, So. (2-1, 1.02 ERA, 17.2 IP, 24 SO, 11 BB, .070 B/Avg.)
UF – LHP Brian Johnson, Jr. (1-0, 3.95 ERA, 13.2 IP, 9 SO, 4 BB, .314 B/Avg.)

Sunday, Mar. 11 – 1:00 p.m.
FGCU – RHP Jason Forjet, Sr. (0-1, 2.50 ERA, 18.0 IP, 16 SO, 4 BB, .260 B/Avg.)
UF – RHP Jonathon Crawford, So. (1-1, 6.94 ERA, 11.2 IP, 16 SO, 5 BB, .333 B/Avg.)

Select games this season will be using CoverItLive to connect with fans during the contests. Live audio, live chat, live stats, in-game Twitter updates (@FGCUBaseball), results and recaps for the final two contests in Gainesville will be available at www.FGCUAthletics.com.