FORT MYERS, Fla. – Finding themselves ahead on the scoreboard in the late stages of the game, the FGCU baseball team surrendered six unanswered in the eighth and ninth innings combined, falling to Illinois, 7-2, on Saturday afternoon at Swanson Stadium.
Dropping the opening pair of contests in the three-game set with the Illini, the Eagles fall to 2-4 on the young season while Illinois improves to 3-2 on the year.
Freshman Brandon Bixler (Oviedo, Fla./Hagerty HS) had another strong outing in just his second collegiate start. In a no-decision effort, the lefty newcomer went 4.2 innings and allowed just one earned run and one walk, while sitting down seven batters he faced. Through two starts, Bixler holds an 2.08 ERA and has accumulated 12 strikeouts.
The Illini went ahead on the scoreboard 1-0 in the top half of the fifth, but the lead was brief as the Eagles responded with a pair of runs in the bottom portion of the frame. After working a walk, freshman Jake Foley (Punta Gorda, Fla./Charlotte HS) was moved to second on a well-executed sacrifice bunt by senior shortstop Stephen Wickens (Whitby, Ontatio/Sinclair Secondary). Senior two-hole hitter Mikel Alvarez (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS) stepped to the dish and laced a first-pitch deliver to the wall in right-center field for an RBI triple, scoring Foley on the play. Freshman Sean Dwyer (Leesburg, Fla./Tavares HS) followed with a sacrifice fly to left field that plated Alvarez and gave the Blue and Green a 2-1 edge.
With junior Jason Forjet (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Nova HS) on the mound, FGCU’s one-run advantage would hold until Illinois evened the score at 2-2 in the top of the eighth. After a pair of singles from Illinois’ Adam Davis and Justin Parr got things started for the Illini, an RBI single to left field by Davis Hendrickson brought the game back to level pegging. With runners on the corners, Forjet would give way to junior Jacob Barnes (St. Petersburg, Fla./St Petersburg HS), who worked the Eagles out of the jam with the score still even at 2-2.
The ninth inning saw Illinois move five runs across the plate on just two hits. Following a hit-by-pitch and a pair of walks, the Illini were in business with the bases full and no outs. A single by Davis followed by a bases clearing triple from Justin Parr pushed the Illinois lead to 6-2. A sacrifice fly later in the frame added an insurance run to the board, as the visitors held a 7-2 lead heading to the final half inning.
FGCU was retired in order in the home half of final stanza as Illinois took the 7-2 victory.
In relief, Forjet went three full innings and allowed just one earned run on five hits to go with three strikeouts on the afternoon. Barnes moved to 0-2 on the year, as he was credited with the loss after throwing 1.1 innings and allowing five earned runs on two hits and a pair of walks, while recording a strikeout.
Senior John Anderson got the start for Illinois and went five innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits with a pair of walks and four strikeouts. Senior Chris Pack picked up his first win of the season, throwing four scoreless innings in relief, recording three strikeouts and allowing four hits.
Alvarez led the Eagles at the plate, going 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored, while Wickens went 2-for-4 at the leadoff position. Dwyer added a 1-for-3 day with an RBI. Hit by two pitches on the afternoon, senior Zach Maxfield’s (North Port, Fla./North Port HS/Pasco Hernando CC) hit streak was halted at 19-games. Alvarez continues his pursuit of becoming FGCU’s all-time hits leader, currently holding 254 career hits which are 57 shy of the record set at 311.
The final contest in the three-game set with Illinois will commence on Sunday afternoon at Swanson Stadium beginning at 1 p.m. Junior right-hander Richie Erath (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS) figures to see the afternoon start for the Eagles. Live stats, in-game Twitter updates (twitter.com/FGCUEagles), results and recaps from the series finale will be available at www.FGCUAthletics.com.