|FGCU senior Jason Forjet is enjoying his role in the Eagles' youth movement.|
A quote attributed to Rosalyn S. Yalow shares that “The excitement of learning separates the young from the old.”
In a battle of two of the hottest teams in the A-Sun, one of its youngest teams continued its education of how to win big games in one of the toughest conferences in collegiate baseball.
With a starting nine that included three freshmen and three sophomores, FGCU fanned the flames of its hot streak and continued it maturation process by winning perhaps its biggest game of the year, knocking off the also red-hot Mercer Bears, 4-3, in dramatic fashion.
In the bottom of the ninth, graduate student Ryan Gebhart singled and then a trio of Eagle sophomores took over. A Sean Dwyer single, followed by a Brandon Bednar sacrifice fly scored Ryan Gebhart to tie the game at 3. A sacrifice bunt by freshman Zack Tillery, followed by an intentional walk of Mike Reeves, advanced Dwyer to third. Andrew Valencia, the third member of the trio of starting sophomores, singled to right center and Dwyer crossed the plate for the Eagles’ dramatic victory.
The young Eagles are becoming used to late-season drama, as they won nine of their last 12 A-Sun games to earn a berth into the tournament. On top of that, now five of their last seven victories have been by one run.
FGCU’s late-season push also includes a dramatic three-game sweep of preseason favorite Stetson last weekend in DeLand. Stetson, preparing to host the A-Sun championship, entered the weekend looking to clinch the regular-season title. The Eagles would have none of it, sweeping a doubleheader and dropping the Hatters to the No. 6 seed.
But for FGCU it wasn’t always this dramatic or exciting. With so many young players and new faces, there were plenty of growing pains. The Eagles lost three of their first four games, all at home, and opened A-Sun play 4-7.
Jason Forjet, one of only five seniors on the 35-man roster, has seen this team seemingly grow up before his eyes. He has witnessed the development of its chemistry and has joined with his teammates in playing with a new level of focus. Forjet believes that the Eagles’ early season struggles in some big games have proven to be a catalyst for their current success.
“Like Coach (Tollett) says, it’s good to play those bigger schools so you can gain that experience,” says Forjet. “We have grown a lot, not just on the field but off the field and it showed tonight as we came out with a great win.”
Forjet’s complete-game performance (2-4, 3.01 ERA) sprinkled in a bit of experience amidst the drama to help keep the Eagles within striking distance. Through nine innings he allowed three runs on four hits, struck out 11 and walked two.
“I wanted to go out there and give my best effort and let the defense work,” says Forjet. “They did a great job for us tonight while we waited for the offense to come through. Overall, it was a great night.”
As has been the case most of the season, the majority of the damage done by FGCU in the win came from its younger players. Dwyer was 3-for-5 with a run scored; Bednar was 3-for-3 with a walk, two RBI and a run scored; Tillery was 1-for-3 with a walk; and Valencia was 1-for-5 with the game-winning RBI.
The season statistics and FGCU’s presence on the A-Sun’s All-Conference teams bear out the leadership of this team’s younger players even further. Dwyer leads the team in seven offensive categories, and the top two players in eight offensive categories and five defensive categories are freshmen or sophomores. The only exception is Gebhart, whose experience has provided a stabilizing consistency. He leads the team in 10 offensive categories and was 2-for-4 with two runs scored in tonight’s victory.
On the All-Conference Team, Sophomore Ricky Knapp was a unanimous selection as Pitcher of the Year. Knapp posted the best ERA in the A-Sun (2.12) and earned eight wins during the regular season, which ranks second in the A-Sun. His three complete-game shutouts topped the conference, while his 106.1 innings pitched was second-best. Knapp enters the A-Sun Championship with FGCU as the four-seed and a .243 opposing batting average - eighth-best in the conference. He picked up the win in the Eagles’ dominating victory over USC Upstate.
Freshmen Brady Anderson, Zach Tillery and Kirby Retzer were also members of the A-Sun All-Freshmen Team. FGCU joined Belmont as the only teams with three players on the 14-man team.
As if they needed any additional confidence, the Eagles entered the championship with a mark of 10-5 against the five other teams in the field. Now as they begin day three 2-0 in the A-Sun Championship, they know they have at least one win over the remaining teams in the bracket.
As an outgoing leader, Forjet expects big wins and postseason opportunities to become more plentiful for FGCU. He understands that these players will be able to look back at what this season and this championship has meant and will mean for the future of this program.
“These young guys coming this far will be a great experience,” he says. “Next year, they will go through some of the same things. Our goal is to always go to Omaha, and it’s no different this year."