Gulfport Energy Corp. surprised some financial analysts on Wednesday when it announced that third quarter production finished 6% ahead of guidance, setting the stage for a strong year-end finish, as volumes continued trending higher through the first two weeks of October.

The news silenced critics after the company’s dismal start to the year had drawn sharp reviews. Production in 3Q2014 was 3.8 million boe, or 42,332 boe/d. In 2Q2014, Gulfport reported production of 26,725 boe/d, down slightly from 27,087 boe/d in the first quarter (see Shale Daily, July 31).

Gulfport also said volumes stood at 53,400 boe/d as of Tuesday, which analysts said would need to be sustained in order for the company to meet its full-year guidance.

The latest numbers came after the company’s mid-year announcement of a marked shift in strategy in its core Ohio Utica Shale (see Shale Daily, May 8). CEO Mike Moore, appointed to the position in April (see Shale Daily, April 24), said before the second quarter ended that the company would scale back in the play to build an inventory of wells aimed at long-term growth and cost controls that were likely to keep production flat for the remainder of the year.

“The company showed dramatic sequential production growth as its new strategy, and personnel, in the play begins to show its worth,” said Wunderlich Securities analyst Jason Wangler.

Gulfport has a patchwork of assets in the Permian Basin, Niobrara formation, Canada and along the Louisiana coast, but it’s been building a sizeable position in the Utica for years. It had 106,000 net acres there at the beginning of last year, but its leasehold has since grown to 183,500 net acres. While it has aggressively hedged its natural gas, and a low debt-to-capitalization ratio has kept analysts optimistic about its prospects in the play, they still expressed caution on Wednesday following the company’s operational update.

Wells Fargo analyst Gordon Douthat said the bar is low for the company at the moment with a “choppy history of meeting [production] targets.” Wangler agreed and both analysts said more clarity would be needed on the company’s operations heading into the end of the year, especially as exploration and production companies have taken a beating in recent weeks over weak commodity prices.

“In our view, this is a big deal given Gulfport’s issues with guidance in the past and believe it can give investors confidence that its assets and operations truly are as impactful as advertised,” Wangler said.

He added that Gulfport’s slow-growing inventory is beginning to show itself and said a large part of the reason the company was able to beat guidance and ramp-up volumes heading into the fourth quarter was because of a large group of wells that came online last month.

Gulfport’s production mix was mostly gas at 71%, which Douthat and Wangler said should help its stock heading into the winter months as demand rises and gassier portfolios prevail over weakening oil prices. The company produced 3.5 million boe in the Utica, 372,374 boe in Louisiana and 14,812 boe in the Bakken, Niobrara and other areas.