Florida Tech Panthers Split Doubleheader, Defeats Valdosta State 9-5

By  //  February 15, 2016

Daniel Szpik was one of seven players to record two hits in Florida Tech’s 9-5 win over Valdosta State Sunday. (Image by Jim Hogue)

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Florida Tech looked dead in the water and quickly en route to its third loss of the weekend at home. The Panthers had been dismantled for the second consecutive afternoon by Catawba and just watched Valdosta State’s first two batters open Sunday’s finale with back-to-back home runs.

Yet, head coach Greg Berkemeier’s club didn’t crumble, but instead displayed some toughness and clawed back to salvage an eventual 9-5 victory over the Blazers.

“I felt like they stayed up,” Berkemeier said of his team’s attitude despite the circumstances.

“It’s hard to, but at the same time, you’re going to get tested in this game. You’re going to play good opponents and they’re going to test you. You’re not just going to roll over people all the time. You’re going to have to go out there and battle. We didn’t give up and found a way to get the win.”

Greg Berkemeier
Greg Berkemeier

The script in Sunday’s clash with Catawba couldn’t have been any more identical than what occurred just 24 hours prior. Florida Tech managed only two hits offensively and, for the most part, was plagued by one costly inning triggered by walks and errors.

The Indians capitalized with five runs in the second inning, three unearned, and ultimately coasted to a 7-0 shutout over the Panthers.

It would’ve been easy for Florida Tech to say “Here we go again” and throw in the towel after Valdosta State literally opened with a bang in the second of two games for the Panthers on Valentine’s Day.

The Blazers’ Scott Mathews mashed a no-doubter on the game’s very first pitch, and to add salt to the wound, was followed up by teammate Michael Gouge’s deep drive only a handful of pitches later.

Valdosta State even tacked on another run in the top of the third, leaving the Panthers scratching their heads down 3-0.

Once the Florida Tech bats finally woke up, though, they were difficult to stop.

A little small ball kick-started Florida Tech in the home half of the third as Kevin Capella laid down a beauty for a lead-off bunt single. After a pair of groundouts advanced him to third, the top of the Panther lineup finally delivered with a much-needed two-out rally.

Snapping their 14-inning scoreless streak, John Sternagel put the Panthers on the board with an RBI double to right center.

Grant  McKown
Grant McKown

The next at-bat, Reid Nealfound a hole through the right side of the infield to cut the deficit to 3-2 before Grant McKown showed a bit of his own power with a two-run dinger over the wall in left field to give the Crimson and Gray its first lead of the weekend.

Florida Tech’s four hits in the third inning alone matched its output in its previous two games combined.

A pair of walks ignited the Panthers in the ensuing inning when center fielder James Gronberg took advantage of the scoring opportunity with a liner just out of the reach of the Valdosta State first baseman to score both Capella and Daniel Szpik.

“I thought the bottom of our lineup did a good job again sparking us like they did up at Flagler,” said Berkemeier.

“It was more of a team effort there from our guys in this game, which is something that we’ve been trying to stress.”

Florida Tech’s cushion grew to 7-3 in the sixth. However, it was eventually cut in half in the top of the eight following a hit batter and a pair of doubles.

The tying run stepped to the plate with a runner in scoring position and still nobody out, but reliever Grant Willcoxon stopped the bleeding before the Blazers could do any further damage.

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Just when Valdosta State thought it had seized a bit of the momentum back, Sternagel and Neal provided some insurance with two more RBI’s in the bottom half of the frame to prevent any sort of late-inning drama this time around against the Blazers.

A whopping seven players recorded multi-hit efforts in the win, including Sternagel, Neal and McKown, who combined for six of the Panthers’ eight RBI’s.

“Those are three very good hitters for us,” said Berkemeier.

“They do a good job of making sure not to give at-bats away. The rest of the team just has to continue to feed off that energy.”

Brett Porter improved to 1-1 on the season after striking out five in three innings of work out of the bullpen.

Following a short home stint, FIT will be back on the road for a three-game series beginning Friday at Georgia Regents.

For complete coverage, log onto FloridaTechSports.com.