MACON, Ga. – Apparently three games between the Atlantic Sun preseason favorites wasn’t enough, as FGCU and Mercer nearly played another full game before the Eagles plated three runs in the top of the 16th inning to come away with a 6-3 triumph in series finale at Claude Smith Field.
The 16-inning affair is the longest game in FGCU’s nine-year history, besting a pair of 15-inning contests. With the win, the Eagles improve to 8-7 and more importantly even their A-Sun record at 3-3 after two straight road weekends to open conference play.
Early on, FGCU couldn’t capitalize on a solid start from senior righty Jack Wagoner (Berlin, Conn./Northwest Catholic/St. Petersburg), who gave up three runs over six innings while striking out seven with no walks. Junior Jacob Barnes (St. Petersburg, Fla./St. Petersburg HS) took over for Wagoner in the seventh and continued his string off scoreless innings.
Trailing 3-0 in the top of the eighth, the Eagles were sparked by a pinch-hit single by freshman Sean Dwyer (Leesburg, Fla./Tavares HS). Dwyer’s one-out single was followed by a fly out before senior Stephen Wickens (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair Secondary) kept the inning alive with a single. Less than 24 hours removed from drilling his third home run of the season, senior Zach Maxfield (North Port, Fla./North Port HS/Pasco-Hernando CC) tied the game at 3-3 with one swing of the bat. Maxfield took a 1-2 pitch from J.T. Odom over the left field wall for his 35th career round-tripper and second straight A-Sun series with two homers.
With the game now tied, the Blue and Green kept the ball in the right arm of Barnes, who tossed five more scoreless innings following Maxfield’s game-tying blast. Barnes’ streak and the game nearly came to end in the bottom of ninth when John Moreland led off the inning with what seemed to be a walk-off home run, but was robbed by freshman centerfielder Jake Foley (Punta Gorda, Fla./Charlotte HS).
Barnes was nearly lights out the rest of the way, striking out eight over his six innings of work and stretched his innings without giving up a run to 13. Over those 13 innings, Barnes has recorded 22 strikeouts.
As good as the FGCU’s bullpen was, Mercer’s relievers matched their performance until the 16th. Mercer’s D.J. Johnson and Brandon Barker kept the Eagles off the scoreboard from the ninth inning through the 15th.
Freshman Harrison Cooney (Vero Beach, Fla./Vero Beach HS) took over for Barnes in the 13th and started a string four solid innings by the first-year right-hander. Cooney gave up just two hits over his four scoreless innings.
With neither team scoring a run for a stretch of seven innings, FGCU broke the drought with three runs in the top of the 16th to take its first lead of the game, at 6-3. Senior Tim Roberson (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS) led off the inning with a double and moved over to third on a sacrifice bunt. A pop up to the next batter put the scoring chance in doubt until a walk to senior Mikel Alvarez (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS) and Wickens being hit by a pitch loaded the bases again for Maxfield. A walk to Maxfield on a full count brought home Roberson’s for the eventual game-winning run to make it 4-3. Senior Robert Greene (Cape Coral, Fla./Mariner HS), who entered the game in the eighth, then stepped to the plate and broke the game open with a two-run single.
After allowing just one base runner over his first three innings, Cooney made things interesting by issuing a walk and giving up a hit to the Bears to open the bottom of the 16th. With two on and no outs, Travis Benn lined out into a double play to freshman Brandon Bednar (Stuart, Fla./South Fork HS) at third, who wheeled and fired to get the second out at second. Another single kept the inning alive for the Bears before Cooney got the last out on a fly ball to Foley in center.
The win moved Cooney to 2-0 on the season, while FGCU improved to 26-10-1 all-time in extra-inning affairs. The extra-inning game was the fourth of the season for the Eagles, who played just three all of last year.
Mercer’s Colby Collins got the loss. Lost in the game was a solid starter from Mercer’s Justice French who went 7.1 innings, allowing one run on five hits with five strikeouts.
Maxfield led the way at the plate during FGCU’s 15-hit afternoon. The North Port, Fla. native went 3-for-6 with four RBI and was also issued two walks. Junior Javi Sujo (Miami, Fla./Miami Sunset HS/Middle Georgia College) had his second multi-hit game of the series, while Dwyer and Wickens contributed two hits each.
A big difference in the game came at the top of the lineup where FGCU’s combo of Alvarez and Wickens reached base five times and scored three runs compared to an 0-for-12 day from Mercer’s first two batters.
After seven straight games away from home, it’s fitting that the Eagles will land back in Fort Myers for five consecutive games this week. On Monday, the FGCU athletic department will honor its biggest supporter and a good friend by holding the funeral services for Duane Swanson in Alico Arena. Swanson, who the baseball stadium is named after, passed away last Tuesday. The service is open to the public and will begin at 1 p.m.
Swanson, who was presented with Honorary Letter from the athletic department prior to the team’s March 2nd-win over Michigan, was one of the pioneers of FGCU’s quick accent into the Division I ranks. Swanson’s involvement with athletics dates back to 2002 when he met with baseball coach Dave Tollett. Since then, Swanson has led the charge in building both the baseball and softball complexes, not only donating generously, but also getting many others to follow in his footsteps. Swanson has also been a consistent donor to the scholarship fund and in 2007 he once again led the charge in building the Outdoor Sports Complex which is home to 11 of 14 FGCU programs.
FGCU will begin its week by hosting Columbia on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the first of a two-game set. The Lions are 3-3 on the season and like the Eagles, own wins over Illinois and Central Michigan.