FORT MYERS, Fla. – Illinois used a three-run first inning to jump out to an early lead against the FGCU baseball team and never looked back en route to a 6-3 win in the series opener Friday night at Swanson Stadium.
Combined with the Illini’s 5-1 lead by third inning, the Eagles stranded 12 runners on base, including the bases loading in the bottom of the ninth, to fall to 2-3 on the young season. The win evens Illinois’ record at 2-2.
Senior Jack Wagoner (Berlin, Conn./Northwest Catholic/St. Petersburg), who was named to the NCBWA’s Stopper of the Year watch list before the season, made his second start of the season, lasting six innings in the loss. Wagoner gave up three of his five runs in the first inning, but ended his evening with three consecutive scoreless innings by retiring 10 of the last 12 batters he faced. He added four strikeouts and two walks.
The Eagles supplied themselves with plenty of opportunities, finishing with eight hits while working eight walks. Senior Mikel Alvarez (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS) recorded his 250th career hit during his 3-for-4 evening that included a double and two RBI. Senior Zach Maxfield (North Port, Fla./North Port HS/Pasco-Hernando CC) extended his hit streak to 19 games while being issued three walks. Freshman Sean Dwyer (Leesburg, Fla./Tavares HS) had his second career multi-hit game that included an RBI single.
Sophomore Kevin Johnson got the nod on the mound for the Illini and earned the win after going five innings, giving up two runs on three hits. Junior Will Strack tossed a solid 3.2 innings in relief before running into trouble in the ninth.
Trailing 6-2 entering the ninth inning, FGCU received a leadoff pinch-hit double from Andrew Valencia (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep). After a deep fly out to centerfield by freshman Jake Foley (Punta Gorda, Fla./Charlotte HS) moved Valencia to third, Strack got the second out of the inning on another fly ball. Alvarez started the comeback with an RBI single to bring home Valencia to make it 6-3. Dwyer then doubled to right center to put two runners in scoring position.
With Maxfield coming to the plate as the potential game-tying run, Illinois reached into its bullpen for senior right-hander Wes Braun. Maxfield worked his third walk of the game to load the bases for junior Javi Sujo (Miami, Fla./Miami Sunset/Middle Georgia), who flied out to center to end the game and the threat.
The two teams will be back in action on Saturday at 2 p.m. for game two of the three-game series. Freshman Brandon Bixler (Oviedo, Fla./Hagerty HS) is slated to start on the mound for the Eagles.