There’s nothing better than opening day in baseball. The grass is freshly cut, the baselines are a perfect white, your uniforms are new and clean, and you have a blank stat sheet with the whole season to fill it.
Last weekend, the Florida Gulf Coast University baseball team (3-1) opened its season with a four-game series against Rhode Island (1-3). The Eagles were able to take three of the four games at home in Swanson Stadium, all in hard-fought games.
The first game of the season held zero runs through the first five innings of the game by either team. In the top of the sixth, Rhode Island was able to get a 2-0 lead over FGCU. The lead faded quickly as the Eagles came back ready to fight in the bottom of the inning. Six straight batters got on base to start the bottom of the sixth, giving FGCU the lead 3-2. Rhode Island was able to tie the game in the top of the seventh, only to give up four more runs to the Eagles in the bottom half of the inning.
Mike Suchy, the returning junior outfielder who was last year’s stat leader, added two of the seven runs for the Eagles, and Estero native Tyler Selesky added two more. Suchy finished 2-3 with two RBIs and a walk.
On Saturday, FGCU and Rhode Island faced each other in a double-header. Each team had a win at the end of the day picked up by good pitching performances.
Game one entailed the Eagles getting a 7-1 victory behind a strong performance out of Nick Deckert. He went for five innings allowing six hits but no earned runs. Deckert also only gave up one walk and struck out four. The Eagles scored in all but two innings and kept Rhode Island to just a single run scored in the sixth.
Game two went in the opposite direction for FGCU. Errors were an issue early for the Eagles, eventually resulting to three runs scored by URI in the fifth inning. The Eagles were able to tie but gave up three more runs a couple innings later that would be too much for them to overcome.
“We didn’t play very well,” head coach Dave Tollett said after the second game of the double-header. “It’s only our third game, we had six errors and some miscommunications, and that really hurt us. We should have won the ball game.”
The fourth and final game of the series was another hard-fought pitching battle by the two teams. FGCU starter Brad Labozzetta, who is coming off Tommy John surgery from fall 2012, struggled a bit early in the game, showing high pitch counts and giving up three hits and two runs in the first three innings. Tollett chose to send out freshman Sterling Koerner, who threw for one of the best freshman performances put on at FGCU.
Koerner stayed on the mound for five and two-thirds innings, allowing one run (zero earned runs) on just three hits with five strikeouts as well. When he entered the game the Eagles were down by one and the deficit grew to two after another scored run in his second inning on the mound.
Mike Suchy, who has now hit in every game this season for FGCU, led off the sixth inning with the single that began a three-run rally for the Eagles to give them the lead that would eventually hold up for the win. Andrew Valencia ripped the ball down the left field line to score the two go-ahead runs.
“It was a great come-from-behind win against a real good quality starter,” coach Tollett said after the Eagles closed out the series win. “We stayed with it. We hung with our approach. We got to him and got into their bullpen, and I’ll tell you what—Sterling Koerner, in all my years here— I’ve never had a long relief appearance like that. It’s the best long relief appearance I’ve ever had here. The kid was phenomenal.”
Freshman pitcher Sterling Koerner pitches during game four of the Eagles’ series against Rhode Island this weekend. During the four-game season opening series, FGCU pitchers combined a 1.25 ERA, allowed five earned runs, struck out 29 and walked only three batters through 36 innings played.EN Photo/Kelli Krebs