DELAND — Andrew Valencia was running up the first base line, watching the ball he had just hit heading for an open patch of grass in right-center field. And he was screaming.
“I was screaming for it to be a base hit,” FCGU’s sophomore designated hitter said.
Oh, it was all right. Moments later, Sean Dwyer crossed the plate with the game-winning run as the fourth-seeded Eagles scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to beat No. 5 Mercer 4-3 on Thursday night in the second round of the Atlantic Sun baseball tournament at Stetson’s Melching Field.
The Eagles (26-29) will play Friday night at 7 against the winner of the 11 a.m. game between Mercer and top-seeded Belmont. A win Friday would put the Eagles into the championship game on Saturday, and as the only undefeated team in the tournament, the Eagles would have to be beaten twice.
Should FGCU lose Friday, it would have to play — and win — twice on Saturday to claim the conference tournament championship.
If the Eagles are the home team, it’s a safe bet which uniform they’ll be wearing.
“We call them our walk-off whites,” an elated Eagles coach Dave Tollett said. “We’ve won three times with them, we were the home team, we wore the walk-off whites and … holy cow, it happened again.”
Heading into the ninth inning, it looked like FGCU and starting pitcher Jason Forjet would be in for another tough loss.
The senior right-hander was simply dominant Thursday, tossing a complete-game four hitter while striking out 11 and walking two. He had a no-hitter through five innings, then ran into trouble in the seventh when Mercer scored three times to wipe out a 2-0 FGCU lead.
“Forjet was awesome,” Tollett said. “We talk about the last inning, but Forjet was lights-out. He had great fastball command.”
However, in 14 of Forjet’s 15 previous starts, the Eagles had scored three runs or less. That looked like it was going to be the case again going into the ninth as FGCU had stranded 11 base runners, including leaving the bases loaded in the seventh when Valencia struck out on an outside fastball.
However, Ryan Gebhart (two hits, two runs) led off the ninth against Mercer closer David Teasley (who was 7-0) with a single. Dwyer, who had three hits on the night, then singled with Gebhart racing to third. Brandon Bednar, who was 3-for-3 on the night and is now 6-for-8 in the tournament, hit a sacrifice fly to right field to tie the game.
After Barron Collier grad Zach Tillery sacrificed Dwyer to second, Mike Reeves was intentionally walked to bring up Valencia to face new reliever Dimitri Kourtis. Valencia swung and missed at a high fastball, then delivered the single that set off a wild celebration.
“I knew he was going to come after me with a fastball,” Valencia said. “I missed the first one. It was a ball. I just swung at it. The next one was just sitting right there and I was thinking, I’ve just got to get some metal on it.
“It was a base hit, thank God.”