The Florida Tech Panthers began their defense of the Sunshine State Conference title in grand fashion on Friday, beating the visiting Florida Southern Moccasins 7-4 under the lights at Nancy Bottge Field.
It took the Panthers eight games to get their first victory, with that win coming last Sunday. They didn’t wait long for number two, beating a very good Florida Southern team.
“We played really tough opponents at the beginning of the season, and I think that prepared us for conference play,” said Panthers coach Val Silvestrini.
Vanessa Rubio hit two of the four dingers, with Jaden Kline and Tina Velazquez Rolon each hitting one.
“It’s nice to hit the ball so well,” said Silvestrini. “I don’t remember the last time we hit four, especially in conference play.”
Velazquez Rolon (2-2) not only contributed at the plate but in the circle, pitching 3.1 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and picking up her second win of the season. She struck out the first two batters she faced and ended the night with three K’s.
The Panthers offense got going in the bottom of the first. Cheyenne Nelson singled and stole second and went to third on a sacrifice by Mikayla Wessel. After Kline walked, she stole second and the throw from the catcher went into the outfield. Nelson scored easily, and Kline slid in safely, just under the tag. That gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead. Rubio followed with her first long ball of the night, giving the Panthers a 3-0 lead.
Florida Tech (2-7, 1-0 SSC) would strike again in the bottom of the third. Nelson reached on an error and Kline chased her home when she smacked one over the wall in left-center field, making it a 5-0 game.
That was the end of the night for FSC starter Kristen Beacham, who gave way to Tiana Hernandez. She was able to keep the Panthers from adding on in the third inning.
The Mocs’ (5-3, 0-1 SSC) started chipping away in the fourth inning. Maddi Conner hit a ball to center that Nelson got to, but it bounced off her glove and Conner got to second. A sac fly and a walk put runners at first and third. Alex Mace followed with an RBI single, making it 5-1. Lindsey Wilson’s infield single made it 5-2, and that brought Silvestrini out to make a pitching change, as Jordan Lawlis took over for Velazquez Rolon, who threw 68 pitches.
Lawlis got an out on a fielder’s choice, and struck out the next batter, ending the inning, and stranding two. Florida Tech loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the fourth with only one out, but Hernandez somehow worked out of it, without giving up a run.
Florida Southern would return the favor in the bottom of the inning, as an error and two walks loaded the bases for them. Lawlis buckled down and struck out the final two batters of the inning, keeping the Panthers lead intact.
Rubio led off the Panthers half of the fifth with her second home run of the night, and Velazquez followed with her shot, giving the Panthers back-to-back home runs and a 7-2 lead.
FSC would get a run in the top of the sixth, as a run scored just before the Panthers finished turning an inning-ending double play.
The visitors’ final run of the night came in the seventh, as the Panthers committed two errors in the inning before Lawlis got the final batter out on a swinging third strike. With that, Lawlis picked up her first save of the season, pitching 3.2 innings, striking out four and walking two. She threw 67 pitches.
“I think our pitchers did great, they kept us in the game and that’s what we need from them,” Silvestrini said. “I think our strategy in the circle this year is completely different from last. We need to work as a team, and our pitchers complement each other.”
The Panthers overcame four more errors on Friday, bringing their season total to 26. That is not lost on coach Silvestrini.
“I think we definitely need to step it up with our defense,” she said. We have to find a way to make the routine play.” When asked if she could put her finger on what the issue is with the fielding woes, Silvestrini was very matter of fact in her answer.
“We knew that our defense was the thing we were going to need to work the most. I think we have a lot of players that are not new, but they’re new to the position,” she said. “They still have things that they need to work on, and I think as the season goes on, they’re gonna get better.”
For more info: Florida Southern @ Florida Tech Box Score
Florida Tech has now won two in a row and will look to continue their winning ways Saturday, as they play a doubleheader against the Mocs’ beginning at noon.
“We know it’s not gonna be easy, none of the games we are playing are easy,” Silvestrini said. “Even the last five games that we played I thought we played really well. It’s fun now that it’s going the other way.”