FORT MYERS, Fla. – Like in all but two Atlantic Sun Conference series this season, the Stetson baseball team dropped the opener to Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday night at Swanson Stadium. The Eagles (35-18, 17-8) defeated the Hatters (26-27, 15-10) by a score of 8-0 in Fort Myers.
A-Sun Preseason Pitcher of the Year Ricky Knapp was nearly unhittable for Stetson, improving to 9-2 on the season after allowing just three hits in seven innings of shutout baseball. The junior right-hander struck out six Hatters, walked none, and retired 15 straight at one point in the contest.
“The major thing tonight was Ricky Knapp, obviously,” Stetson Head Coach Pete Dunn said following the game. “When you get shutout you can’t win, and Knapp’s one of the best there is in college baseball. He just knows how to pitch. He can throw the fastball by you, but he’s not that kind of pitcher that’s just going to depend on the fastball.”
Knapp was given run support from the start on Thursday, as the Eagles put one across in the first inning to take an early lead. Mike Reeves led off the frame with a double the landed just fare down the left field line, and advanced to third on a fly out to center. A long sacrifice fly by Sean Dwyer drove in Reeves to give FGCU the 1-0 advantage.
The Hatters put themselves in a hole that is always going to be difficult to get out of going against Knapp, as Stetson starter Josh Powers allowed three runs in the bottom of the fourth. Brooks Beisner led off the frame with a solo homer to left field, and Colton Bottomley drove in a pair with a double off the wall to make it 4-0 in favor of the Eagles.
It was a four-run sixth inning that put this one away for the Eagles. Powers allowed three straight singles to load the bases, but got Reeves to foul out for the second out of the inning, and it looked like the Hatters would get out of trouble. It was then that Michael Suchy went yard with a grand slam that made it 8-0 for FGCU.
Clint Knoblauch relieved Knapp for the final two innings, giving the FGCU ace an opportunity to rest for the upcoming conference tournament. Knoblauch fared well in his relief stint, allowing no runs on just one hit during the final two frames.
Powers fell to 1-7 on the year after allowing eight runs, seven of which were earned, on 10 hits. Freshman Josh Thorne relived the starter after six innings, allowing no runs on just one hit, and striking out one Eagle.
“It was too much Knapp tonight,” Dunn continued. “You have to tip your hat to him, and as I told the team, we just have to come back. We’ve been in this situation before, losing the opener and then fighting back to win our next two, so we’ll come out tomorrow and fight like crazy, and see if we can win one tomorrow, and one on Saturday.”
Stetson and FGCU will square off in game two at 6:30 p.m. on Friday night in Fort Myers. Junior left-hander Austin Perez is scheduled to take on freshman Michael Murray. The action can be heard on GoHatters.com with Ryan Rouse on the call.