FORT MYERS, Fla. – After being three-hit over the first eight innings, the FGCU baseball team kept its Atlantic Sun Tournament hopes alive by overcoming a 4-1 deficit in the bottom of the ninth with a four-run rally that was capped by a pinch-hit walk-off double by freshman Andrew Valencia (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep) to give the Eagles a dramatic 5-4 victory over Lipscomb on Friday at Swanson Stadium.
The at-bat was the first since May 8 for Valencia, who took Mike Grace’s 1-2 offering and drilled it into left center field to score classmate Sean Dwyer (Leesburg, Fla./Tavares HS) from second and senior Stephen Wickens (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair Secondary) all the way from first for the game-winning run. Four of the five batters in the inning for the Eagles had a hit, while no outs were recorded.
“We battled for nine innings and this win is very rewarding,” said head coach Dave Tollett. “Their starter (Fonfara) was as good as anyone we’ve faced all season and I’m proud of the way we continued to fight. We’ve got to come back tomorrow with the same attitude and get a win to position ourselves for a chance at the postseason.”
Winners of four of its last five, FGCU (26-28, 15-14) still needs a loss from Belmont to move into a tie for the sixth and final A-Sun postseason berth. The Bruins are playing their second game at Stetson this evening and with a loss would hold an identical 15-14 A-Sun record.
A win by the Bruins would make tomorrow’s regular season finale a must-win for the Blue and Green and still require a loss by Belmont in its finale against the Hatters. FGCU holds the tie-breaker over the Bruins after taking last weekend’s series in Nashville.
Not to be lost in the ninth-inning rally was the effort on the mound out of the bullpen by junior Jason Forjet (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Nova HS). With the Eagles trailing 4-1 in the fourth with two outs, Forjet entered and tossed 5.1 scoreless innings to close the game. Forjet scattered seven hits over his 85-pitch night, striking out three in his third win of the season.
The comeback began with sophomore Mike Reeves (Peterborough, Ontario/St. Peter’s Secondary) being hit by Lipscomb starter Blake Fonfara, who limited the Eagles to three while striking out eight over the first eight innings. An infield single by junior Javi Sujo (Miami, Fla./Miami Sunset HS/Middle Georgia College) that was nearly scooped up by Fonfara gave the Eagles two on with no outs. Dwyer ended Fonfara’s evening on the mound with a RBI double into left center field that scored the first run of the frame to make it 4-2.
Faced with a pair of runners in scoring position with no outs, including the game-tying run on second, Grace entered the game for Fonfara and gave up an RBI single through the right side in his second pitch to Wickens that scored Sujo to make it 4-3 and set the stage for Valencia’s game-winner.
FGCU finished with just seven hits, but its four in the ninth helped it pick up its third win of the season when trailing after eight innings. Wickens was the only Eagle with a multi-hit afternoon, going 2-for-3 with a run scored. Batters 5-8 in the FGCU starting lineup accounted for five of the seven hits and four of the five runs scored.
Fonfara’s final line in the no-decision was eight innings, four earned runs, five hits and eight strikeouts over 127 pitches. Lipscomb pounded out 14 hits over the game, but left 10 runners on base en route to falling to 19-35 and 10-19 in the A-Sun.
FGCU will go for the series sweep on Saturday at 1 p.m. and in the process hopes to lock up a spot in next week’s A-Sun Tournament in Nashville. The Eagles will honor their eight-member senior class 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. Senior Jack Wagoner (Berlin, Conn./Northwest Catholic/St. Petersburg) is the scheduled game three starter.
Live audio, video and stats of tomorrow’s regular season finale came be found at www.FGCUATHLETICS.com. Tom James will have the call live from Swanson Stadium. The game is free for all FGCU faculty and staff along with their families, while kids also get in free by wearing their little or school baseball jersey.