By: Josh Brannock, Sports Editor
The UNF baseball team will play Bethune-Cookman March 21, followed by a three-game series against USC Upstate beginning March 23, after winning six of its last nine games.
UNF won games against FGCU, Savannah State, South Alabama and FIU over Spring Break. In the six wins, the team typically won in blowout fashion; its most recent win was an 18-2 demolition of SSU March 20. UNF outscored its opponents in the wins 63-28.
In the three losses the team suffered over the break, the games were much closer contests. The teams’ bats became silent against FIU and FGCU, and the team only scored eight runs total and gave up 15 runs to the two teams in the losses.
“We lost the game at FIU, and we played great, but FIU played a little bit better,” Ospreys’ Head Coach Smoke Laval said. “The only game so far that we haven’t really played well in was the game saturday [March 17] against FGCU. We weren’t in it.”
In the three-game series against South Alabama that started off the break, the team’s lowest scoring game was a 13-inning thriller in which the team won 7-3 March 11. The Ospreys scored two runs in the ninth and were able to complete the sweep of the Jaguars thanks to a walk-off grand slam from Garrick Ferguson.
After sweeping South Alabama, the Ospreys traveled down south to play in a two-game series against FIU. UNF would lose the first game March 13 6-4. The game was a close affair; UNF was down 5-4 at one point, but the Ospreys couldn’t close the gap completely in the loss. The next day, UNF managed to score a 10-8 comeback win over FIU. UNF started the game down 7-2 after three innings, but with the help of four runs in the sixth and strong pitching from the bullpen, the team was able to split the series.
After the series against FIU, the team began conference play against FGCU, picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Sun in the preseason poll.
The Ospreys played with less intensity in the first two games than they did in the comeback victory as they lost 2-0 March 16 and 7-4 March 17.
In the 2-0 loss, the Eagles used two early runs and strong pitching from starter Ricky Knapp, who pitched a complete game, to come away with the low-scoring win.
In the March 17 game, the team started with a 2-0 lead after one inning but found itself 6-3 at the end of the fourth. The bats went cold for the Ospreys after that, and the team fell to the Eagles for the second straight game.
UNF would close off the series against FGCU March 18 with one of its more impressive wins of the young season. The game started off poorly for UNF, with the team trailing 3-0 after three innings of play, but the Ospreys’ offense would explode for 10 runs in the final four innings of the game, and the pitching held FGCU to just one run in the final six innings to come away with a 10-4 victory.
After taking two of five road games, the team returned to Jacksonville, where it hosted SSU. The team dominated from the start and took every advantage it could get in the 18-2 slaughter. UNF scored its 18 runs on just 14 hits. It helped that SSU had three errors on the night, and the pitchers walked 10 batters on the night.
Even with the strong 14-7 start to the season, Laval thinks the team still has a lot of room for improvement.
“We compete better pitch-by-pitch, but we’re still a ways away yet, but we’re better than what we should be,” Laval said. “We’re playing better than we did last year, not overly impressive. I’m proud of ‘em, but we’ve got a long way to go for me to be really impressed.”
Email Josh Brannock at [email protected]