FORT MYERS, Fla. – Fresh off a weekend split to open the 2011 season, the FGCU baseball team will play host to Big Ten foe Illinois in a three-game set at Swanson Stadium. The Eagles will begin the series with the Illini on Friday at 6:30 p.m., continuing Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and concluding Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
Opening the year with a split of the four-game series with Central Michigan last weekend, the Eagles bring a 2-2 record into the upcoming contests with the Illini. The Blue and Green dropped the season-opener 8-6 in 10 innings, but responded by sweeping the Saturday doubleheader with a 10-7 game one win and an 11-inning 4-3 victory, courtesy of a walk-off single by senior shortstop Stephen Wickens (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair Secondary) in game two. The Chippewas exited Fort Myers after leveling the series at two apiece with a 10-5 defeat of the Eagles on Sunday.
At the plate, the Eagles received solid at-bats from the senior pair of first baseman Zach Maxfield (North Port, Fla./North Port HS/Pasco-Hernando CC) and Wickens. Maxfield leads the team with a .412 average, .474 on-base percentage and a .529 slugging percentage, to go with a team-best five RBI. Leading the way with five runs scored, Wickens holds a .316 average while leading the team with 19 at-bats.
On the mound, the Eagles used a significant portion of their pitching staff to get through the weekend. Right-handed seniors Jack Wagoner (Berlin, Conn./Northwest Catholic/St. Petersburg) and Richie Erath (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS) got the starts for the first two contests of the season. Wagoner holds a 1.80 ERA after retiring five hitters and allowing seven hits while Erath stuck out four batters and allowed six hits, while both pitchers factored into no-decisions in their first start of the season. Junior Jason Forjet (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Nova HS) pitched well in relief, recording eight strikeouts and a pair of hits in five innings of work to finish the opening series with a 0.00 ERA.
Wagoner will appear on the mound for the Eagles in game one of the Illinois series, followed by freshman lefty Brandon Bixler (Oviedo, Fla./Hagerty HS) in game two and Erath in the final meeting between the schools.
The Illini spent last weekend at the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge in Clearwater where they opened with a loss to Pittsburgh (10-6), a win against Cincinnati (7-3) and a tough 5-4 defeat against West Virginia.
Illinois’ rotation featured Kevin Johnson in the opener, John Anderson in game two and Corey Kimes in the third contest. Johnson surrendered nine runs, all of which were unearned, in his 4.2 inning loss while Kimes let up 10 hits and three earned runs in a no-decision. Anderson picked up the lone win for the Illini, throwing five innings and allowing one earned run on two hits to go with four strikeouts.
Four players hold batting averages above .300 for the Illini after the opening weekend contests. Junior shortstop Josh Parr leads the charge with his .385 average, going 5-for-13 with a double and a triple, as well as team-highs with four runs scored and four RBI. Senior outfielder Casey McMurray is hitting .333 with two runs scored and three RBI.
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.
Live stats, in-game Twitter updates (twitter.com/FGCUEagles), results and recaps from the weekend series will be available at www.FGCUAthletics.com.