JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (March 22, 2013) – In a game that came down to strong pitching and small ball it was Florida Gulf Coast that executed the plays to perfection, as the 26th-ranked Eagles survived for a 3-2 victory over ETSU on a chilly Friday night at Thomas Stadium.
With the game tied at two heading into the ninth, Brandon Bednar led off the inning with a ground-rule double to right, moved over to third on Michael Suchy’s sacrifice bunt, and scored the game-winning run on Nick Rivera’s one-out single to left. The Bucs – who had the go-ahead run in scoring position in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings – couldn’t manufacture the clutch hit off reigning Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year Ricky Knapp. ETSU also put the leadoff runner on in the ninth, but after sophomore Chris Riopedre (Miami, Fla.) failed on three bunt attempts, closer Harrison Cooney earned his second save of the season by getting Jordan Sanford (Powell, Tenn.) to ground into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Knapp – who entered the night allowing three earned runs all season – earned the win (5-0) after giving up two runs on seven hits in eight innings of work. The junior right-hander also struck out eight and walked two. Meanwhile, freshman right-hander Griffin Krieg (Nashville, Tenn.) went toe-to-toe with one of the top pitchers in the country, but the Buccaneer rookie suffered his first loss of the year (2-1) despite being charged with only three runs (two earned) on nine hits in 8.1 innings. The Nashville, Tenn. native registered a career-high seven strikeouts and issued two walks.
At the plate, freshman Jeremy Taylor (Fayetteville, Ga.) and senior Alex Reynolds (Johnson City, Tenn.) finished with two-hit games. Taylor went 2-for-4 with a double, stolen base, and an RBI, while Reynolds recorded a pair of singles.
Florida Gulf Coast (14-4, 1-0 A-Sun) jumped out to the early 2-0 lead by scoring a pair of runs in the second inning, but Krieg did an excellent job holding the Eagles to only the two runs. After two runs scored on an infield single by Suchy (combined with a throwing error from Riopedre), the Eagles had runners in scoring position yet again when Rivera doubled to right, but Krieg came back to get the next two FGCU hitters out swinging before forcing Tyler Selesky to fly out to the warning track in right.
From there, Krieg held the Eagles scoreless until the ninth-inning single by Rivera, while only having two FGCU base runners reach second base from the third through eighth innings.
After the Blue and Gold missed a scoring chance in the third as the Bucs had runners on the corners with one out and couldn’t push across a run, ETSU redeemed itself in the fifth by scoring a pair of runs to pull even at two. Riopedre reached on a fielder’s choice and advanced to third on Sanford’s one-out single to right-center. The Miami, Fla. native scored ETSU’s first run of the game when Knapp was charged with his first wild pitch of the season, giving Sanford the opportunity to move into scoring position. Following a fly out by Mason Hershey (Altoona, Pa.), Sanford advanced to third on another wild pitch, and scored when Taylor’s two-out double to left-center made it a 2-2 ballgame. Unfortunately, Taylor was left stranded at second when Knapp forced Clinton Freeman (Jonesborough, Tenn.) to ground out to second.
The Bucs had their chances again in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, but Knapp continued to work his magic to keep the game tied at two.
ETSU had the go-ahead run 90-feet from scoring in the sixth, but with two outs and Andrew Green (Powell, Tenn.) on third, Knapp posted his fifth punch out of the game to keep the game knotted up.
Again, Knapp came through with another key strikeout in the seventh as Taylor reached on a two-out bunt single and stole second; however, the FGCU hurler struck out Derek Niesman (Wellington, Fla.) swinging to end the threat.
Then, in the eighth, Freeman led off the inning with a single to right, but he was quickly doubled up when Green’s sac-bunt attempt was caught by the FGCU catcher and Mike Reeves fired down to first to get the second out of the frame.
The Eagles gained the momentum from that play by scoring the winning run in the ninth and opened up the conference season with a one-run victory.
Reeves, Bednar, Suchy and Rivera all had two-hit games for FGCU.
The Blue and Gold suffered their second straight one-run setback of the season, marking the first time ETSU has lost back-to-back games in 2013. Following the loss, the Bucs dropped to 12-7, 2-2 in A-Sun play.
The series wraps up on Saturday as both teams agreed to play a doubleheader starting at 2:05 p.m., at Thomas Stadium. The second game of the twinbill will start approximately 45-minutes following the first contest. Little League Weekend will continue on Saturday, so children (13 and under) who wear their little league uniform to the game receive free admission.
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