A-Sun Co-Favorites Set to Battle as No. 24 @FGCU_Baseball Heads to Mercer
Thursday, April 11, 2013 | by Caleb Baker
Photo by J. Meric
Photo by J. Meric
#24 FGCU (20-10, 6-4 A-Sun)
Mercer (27-10, 8-5 A-Sun)
4/12/2013 | Macon, Ga. | Attendance: 913
Win: RANDALL (1-0) 5.164413
Loss: KNAPP (6-2) 4.276545
BEDNAR (FGCU) 322200
RIVERA (FGCU) 412201
WORKMAN (MER) 512200
BOYD (MER) 322000

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Sitting atop the Atlantic Sun Conference standings, No. 24 FGCU baseball turns its attention back to league play as it heads to Macon, Ga. to do battle with Mercer in a three-game set, beginning Friday at 6 p.m.

The two squads, which were named co-favorites to win the A-Sun entering the season by the league coaches, will continue with a 2 p.m. start on Saturday and wrap up the set on Sunday at 1 p.m. All three contests can be viewed live via web stream at www.ASun.TV.

The Eagles (20-9) enter the weekend atop the A-Sun standings alongside UNF with a 6-3 league record, while the Bears (26-10, 7-5 A-Sun) sit in a three-way share of second place with ETSU and Kennesaw State.

FGCU maintained the No. 24 rating by Perfect Game for the second straight week, while also landing at No. 29 in the newest edition of the Collegiate Baseball Top 30 and No. 30 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA). Additionally, the Green and Blue moved up one spot to No. 10 in the College Baseball Daily Mid-Major Top 25 and were listed among others receiving votes in the USA Today Top 25.

Through the first 29 games, the FGCU pitching staff holds a 3.09 team ERA with an opponent batting average of .240. Additionally, the Green and Blue has combined for 205 strikeouts in their 264.2 innings on the bump.

Sitting third in the conference with a 1.20 ERA, A-Sun Preseason Pitcher of the Year junior right-hander Ricky Knapp (Port Charlotte, Fla./Port Charlotte HS) will take the game ball for the Friday night opener. Sitting with a league-best 6-1 record through his seven starts this season, the Port Charlotte, Fla. native holds a .215 opponent average, good for fifth in the A-Sun, through 52.2 innings of work, adding 37 strikeouts and just seven walks. In his last start at Kennesaw State (April 5), Knapp went seven innings, allowing two runs on eight hits and a pair of walks. It marked the first loss in the last 13 starts for the third-year arm, who had collected 10 wins in those outings dating back to last season.

FGCU will also utilize freshman right-hander Michael Murray (West Palm Beach, Fla./Forest Hill HS) in the three-game series.  In 46.2 innings of work, the first-year player holds a 2.89 ERA with a .253 opponent batting average and 20 strikeouts. Through eight appearances, including seven starts, the West Palm Beach, Fla. product heads into his weekend start with a 4-1 overall record. Helping the Eagles even the series at KSU (April 6), Murray allowed one run on seven hits in 6.2 innings of work for his fourth win of the season.

Also scheduled to open one of the final two contests in the set, junior southpaw Brandon Bixler (Oviedo, Fla./Hagerty HS) will toe the rubber with a 2.30 ERA and the best opponent batting average in the A-Sun of .192. Through 31.1 innings of work in his six starts, Bixler holds a 3-2 record and has retired 42 batters by strikeout, which ranks fourth in the league. In his previous outing at KSU (April 7), the hard-throwing lefty lead the Eagles to victory, going 5.1 innings and allowing just one run on four hits while striking out nine batters.

The offensive production has been led by senior Mike Reeves (Peterborough, Ontario/St. Peter's Secondary), hitting .342 with 14 RBI and 20 runs scored with a team-high .426 on-base percentage. Junior Brandon Bednar (Stuart, Fla./South Fork HS) is connecting at a .341 rate with team-highs of 26 RBI and 27 runs scored, adding three triples and a home run while swiping four bases on the year.

The Eagles hold an all-time record of 110-49 in A-Sun conference contests and have established a 9-6 advantage in the all-time series against Mercer. The Eagles swept the first-ever A-Sun series between the schools in 2008, before taking two of three in 2009 and 2010. However, the Bears have earned back-to-back 2-1 series wins in the most recent meetings between the two squads.

With four A-Sun Preseason All-Conference picks in their lineup, the Bears have been led offensively by junior outfielder Derrick Workman, who leads the conference in batting average (.403), slugging percentage (.739), home runs (8) and total basses (88), while also ranking among the leaders in on-base percentage (2nd, .486), RBI (2nd, 40) and runs scored (8th, 28).

Joining Workman in the preseason recognition, sophomore infielder Chesny Young holds a .357 average and a .417 on-base percentage with 37 RBI and 35 runs scored. Junior first baseman Nick Backlund, a unanimous preseason all-conference selection entering the year, is connecting at a .302 clip with seven home runs, 25 runs scored and a team-best 42 RBI.

The Bears have announced a rotation of junior right-hander Brandon Barker (4-0, 1.93 ERA) on Friday, followed by senior lefty David Randall (0-0, 2.45 ERA) and junior righty DJ Johnson (5-2, 2.05 ERA) on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Leading the A-Sun with nine starts on the year, Barker currently ranks fourth in the conference in ERA while also second in strikeouts (48) and eighth in both opposing batting average (.239) and innings pitched (51.1). Meanwhile, Johnson sits third in the A-Sun with a .203 opposing batting average while also fifth in the league with a 2.05 ERA.

FGCU Probable Starters
Fri. – RHP Ricky Knapp, Jr. (6-1, 1.20 ERA, 52.2 IP, 37 K, 7 BB, .215 B/Avg.)
Sat./Sun. – RHP Michael Murray, Fr. (4-1, 2.89 ERA, 46.2 IP, 20 K, 7 BB, .253 B/Avg.)
Sat./Sun. – LHP Brandon Bixler, Jr. (3-2, 2.30 ERA, 31.1 IP, 42 K, 23 BB, .192 B/Avg.)

Mercer Probable Starters
Fri. – RHP Brandon Barker, Jr. (4-0, 1.93 ERA, 51.1 IP, 48 K, 16 BB, .239 B/Avg.)
Sat. – LHP David Randall, Sr. (0-0, 2.45 ERA, 3.2 IP, 3 K, 2 BB, .077 B/Avg.)
Sun. – RHP DJ Johnson, Jr. (5-2, 2.05 ERA, 48.1 IP, 35 K, 9 BB, .203 B/Avg.)