UWF baseball defeats nationally ranked Valdosta State in three-game series

By Grier Wellborn
Sports Editor

The UWF Argos exit the field after dominating Valdosta State 8-0 in the first game of this weekend’s three-game series on Saturday.
Photo by Grier Wellborn.

The University of West Florida baseball team faced off against the No. 19 Valdosta State Blazers this weekend at Jim Spooner Field. The Argos continued Gulf South Conference play in a double-header on Saturday.

In the first game, junior pitcher Walker O’Connor took the mound for the Argos. O’Connor was named GSC player of the week after shutting out No. 1 Tampa two weeks ago in the third game of the series. O’Connor shut out Valdosta state while he pitched in the first seven innings. O’Connor now has pitched 21 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.

“It feels good,” O’Connor said. “Just going to keep working and taking it one game at a time.”

O’Connor is 3-0 as starting pitcher for UWF and is currently ranked fourth in UWF All-Time ERA Records (2.34).

A home run in the bottom of the first inning by senior Jean Figueroa gave the Argos the first lead in the game, a lead they would carry on throughout the next eight innings. Freshman Robert Lopez hit his third home run of the season in the second inning. Lopez was named GSC player of the week this past week for his stellar performance against Mississippi College.

Big plays from Figueroa, sophomore Nic Strasser, junior Justin Ambrosino, and senior Alex Greene in the bottom of the fifth allowed the Argos to score three more runs to reach a 5-0 lead.

The Argos went on to score two more runs in the sixth and one last run in the eighth to win game one 8-0.

Senior pitcher Josh McLaney made his sixth appearance of the season by relieving O’Conner in the eighth inning and closing Game 1 for the Argos.

The Argos went from shutting the Blazers out in the first game to being shut out by the Blazers in the second game of the day.

Junior JT Granat took over the mound to start the second game for the Argos. Granat gave up three runs in the first five innings of the game.

While the Argos offense came out with vigor in the first game, they were no match for the Blazers’ senior pitcher Kellan Baily and lost heat in the second. Baily played all seven innings, only allowing the Argos four hits and zero runs.

“We came out with all intensity in the first game,” Ambrosino said. “We came out fired up, but by the second game we didn’t have it and they did.”

Junior Jared Petree relieved Granat and pitched the last two innings of the game. While the Argos lost the second game 0-3, a night’s rest would give the Argos the time the needed to finish the series on Sunday.

Junior Anthony Mazzurco took the mound in the start of Game 3 on Sunday afternoon. A slow start to the game resulted in a scoreless tie game until the bottom of the fifth when Greene hit a single to allow senior catcher Kyle Hamner to score for the Argos.

The Blazers would also score in the next two innings to take their first lead of the game. The Argos tied the game back up in the bottom of the seventh when Ambrosino brought it home after a single hit by junior Michael Savas.

Senior pitcher Brandon Nagem took over for Mazzurco in the sixth inning and pitched through the seventh. While he allowed one run, he recorded abutting strikeouts against the Blazers.

Junior pitcher Steve McClellan relieved Nagem in the eighth inning, leaving the Blazers scoreless in the eighth, ninth and 10th. Senior pitcher Sean Kennedy took the mound in the 11th inning to close for UWF. Just when it looked like game three might head into 12th inning, a walk-off single by Hamner allowed junior Ladeavon Matthews to score at the bottom of the 11th to win the series for the Argos 3-2.

Beating Valdosta State marks a huge triumph for the UWF baseball team, as the Blazers were ranked No. 3 in the South Region and No. 18 nationally. UWF now has extended its nine-game winning streak at Jim Spooner Field against the Blazers.

The UWF baseball team will return to The Spoon to face off against Stillman College at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 2.

For a complete season schedule, visit goargos.com.