Thursday, May 23, 2013

Duel in DeLand Lives Up to Billing

Stephen Janas and Ricky Knapp, two of the best pitchers in the nation, shared Melching Field’s mound as MLB scouts filled the first few rows of Conrad Park to view the highly-anticipated pitching matchup.

Both entered the contest with similar accolades; 2013 First Team All-Conference Honors, top-five ERAs in the A-Sun and sterling records overall.

Kennesaw State’s Janas, a candidate for National Pitcher of the Year honors, boasted an 8-0 record and the nation’s second-best ERA (0.81) entering Wednesday’s contest. The junior hurler returned from an injury plagued sophomore season to win seven-straight decisions dating back to March 22nd. Throughout the regular season, Janas allowed only six earned runs, trailing only UCLA’s David Berg (0.51 ERA).

The 2012 A-Sun Pitcher of the Year, FGCU’s Ricky Knapp entered the season as the favorite to retain his title as top pitcher in the conference and started the season out dealing as he won his first six contests including an 8-2 complete-game victory on the road against then-No. 13 Florida.

Knapp’s first loss of the season came on a road trip to the Peach State when the Eagles squared off with Kennesaw State on April 5th. The junior hurler allowed only two earned runs over the course of seven innings, but Janas barely out-dueled his counterpart with a single run during the same span.

Following the first showdown, Janas went on to win his next four starts and help the Owls to the seven-seed in the 2013 Atlantic Sun Baseball Championship after taking runner-up honors in 2012. Knapp and the Eagles exited the KSU series with two wins and continued to capture 37 wins and the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

With both pitchers slated to open the conference championship for their respective teams, Kennesaw State Head Coach Mike Sansing expected another duel between the two.

“We had to pitch well tonight which we did and we got out of a few jams because of our defense. The pitching and defense really helped us tonight with our offense going up against Knapp.”

The contest began as expected as Knapp retired the first six batters before allowing a single and the eventual game-winning run in the third inning, while Janas escaped the first six innings without an Eagle crossing the plate due to two doubles plays by his defense.

KSU’s offense cemented Janas’ ninth triumph at the expense of Knapp by scratching across three runs over nine innings. His final line read seven innings, eight hits, one earned run and five strikeouts, but more importantly the Owls advanced to Friday’s 10 a.m. showdown with the winner of tomorrow’s North Florida and Lipscomb contest.

Despite his second complete of the season, Knapp absorbed the loss and the Eagles now must await their next opponent between North Florida and Lipscomb. As the Eagles showed following their first meeting with Knapp, they are more than capable of battling back from defeat.

Janas allowed four walks a season-high in the win, but the Owls defense supported their ace throughout the contest, which he acknowledged after the game.

“Thank you to my defense, they made with some great plays to get me out of a few innings with my control struggling a little bit. We are just glad to get the win in the first game of the tournament after we lost in the openers the past two years.”

Sansing noted his ace’s control issues, but stated it simply, “When Janas is on the mound we know he is going to win.”

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