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Down The Lineup With Turtle

Turtle We're 10 days away from the FIU baseball season opener against Jacksonville on Feb. 20 -- a 3-game series at University Park Stadium.

Here's the third part of our 3-part preseason look at your Panthers with coach Turtle Thomas (left, Sam Lewis photo). Still plenty of time to make changes everywhere for TT, but this is what he's thinking thus far when it comes to the Opening Day lineup and other parts of FIU baseball as the 2009 season approaches...

PP: We're still some time away from the opener, but what's a rough sketch of your batting order right now?

TT: We have an idea about our top 5 or 6 guys in the lineup. Pablo Bermudez in center field should lead off. Ryan Mollica (right, Alex J. Hernandez photo), who hit second in the lineup last year, should be our second hole hitter. I would think that Tyler Townsend would be our third hole hitter. Steven Stropp will probably clean up for us or hit fifth. I think Tim Jobe may be in the fifth spot and then some other spots below that are still open for Moll competition.

PP: Stropp showed he can hit last season, but wasn't your prototypical cleanup hitter, what about Stropp makes him suited for the 4 hole?

TT: Stropp has a lot of power actually. He’s a big, strong guy. One game this fall we only used aluminum. It was one of only 2 times we used aluminum in the fall. In that game, he hit a grand slam, a three-run home run and a three-run double off the top of the center field wall. He knocked in 10 runs here in the intra-squad game. It was a pretty stellar day. There wasn’t anything wrong with the pitching he was facing that day. It was OK pitching he was facing.

PP: One guy that I thought made a pretty good impression in the fall was freshman shortstop Garrett Wittels (below, left). Could we see him in the starting lineup on Opening Day?

TT: Wittels probably has made more strength gains in the weight room than anybody that we’ve had so far. He’s taken to the weights and the bat weight stuff that we do. He’s done a nice job of getting stronger. He’s very strong from the elbows down where hitters need to be. He’s one of those guys who is Gw a self-made player that competes and doesn’t want to get beat. He finds a way to hit the ball and finds a way to field it. He’s going to play somewhere either shortstop or third base.

PP: Wittels also was a pretty good pitcher/closer at Krop High, will he pitch too?

TT: Being a left side infielder, you’re probably asking a little too much for a young guy to pitch and play the left side of the infield. You’re waiting for an arm injury or arm problem waiting to happen when you do that.

PP: Your defense was a little shaky last year during some games. How do you feel about your gloves this season?

TT: We were middle of the road in our conference in fielding percentage last year, but we were close to the top in the 30 conference games. In conference games, we really had only 1 or 2 sub-par defensive games. We went six games in a row and another time five games in a row without making any errors and that set the all-time school record. I was pretty pleased with our defense. Probably the range of our players just due to probably not having the fastest of guys, probably was the biggest detriment. But when they got to it and caught it they usually threw them out. We just have to find the right guys for the right slots that can give you a nice offensive and defensive production.

Wood PP: You guys came out a little slow offensively last year. Did you still go most of theAlum off-season using only wood bats.

TT We started picking up the aluminum on Jan. 26. We’ll be using the aluminum almost 4 weeks before we open up. Last year, it was one week before the opener and I thought it took our guys a little while to adjust to the aluminum so we are going to go with that a little bit earlier this year.

LogoPANTHER PAWSE

Apaw  Apparently there is some pretty good interest in FIU baseball, the Diamond Dinner drew 670 people -- an all-time FIU record for a Diamond Dinner.

Apaw

A nice comeback win for the FIU hoops team last Saturday after an awful 1st half in which they scored just 16 points. Down by 21 points with 14 minutes left in the game, the Panthers rallied and won it in OT. If this team can be as resilient as last Saturday, then there's no reason it cannot contend in the Sun Belt Tournament. Still need Freddy Asprilla back for a serious run, though.

 Apaw

 And you thought the Golden Dazzlers only just dance on the basketball court? Dazzler Lisa Dazzlers Sakowitz hit some 3-pointers in the 3-point contest at halftime of Saturday's game. Spoke with her afterward and LS says she stopped playing hoops at Sunset High to go into dancing.

Your questions:

blkpanther: Pete have you heard anything on James Jones. I know he blew his knee out at the end of the season and he is likely to miss most if not all of next season. But how is it going with him?

PP: It's looking like JJ might be taking a redshirt season in 2009. It was a pretty good tear.

FIUBlueandGold: Pete: do we have an update on the status of Ash Parker and his recovery?

Ash PP: Saw Ash (left, No. 11) before going to an FIU hoops game the other day and he says he's feeling a lot better and expects to be ready for fall practice in August.

Alonzo: Pete, how many seniors will we have next year and, how many starters for both offense and defense are returning?

PP: By my count FIU brings back 24 seniors for 2009. If we count Darriet Perry as a starter, which is what he is, then all 11 starters on offense return, but only 6 starters return on defense.

FIUFPL: Hey, Pete - I don't think you ever answered whether this is the best recruiting class or not.

PP: In the 7-year history of the FIU football program, yes, this is the best recruiting class ever at least on paper, now let's see them do it on the field starting Sept. 12 in Bama. I gave them 5 Paws on the last poll.

Ultimate FIU Fan: Question to Pete & the GPP Nation: Is there ANYONE faster in the SBC than TR!

PP: Not that I have seen from any other Sun Belt team this season. Tremayne Russell is a tremendous sparkplug off the bench for FIU.

Apaw

We had a worldy turnout on our last poll question about the rating for the 2009 FIU football signing class with readers from Lebanon, Spain, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, France, Ennis Montana and the rest of the good old USA chiming in. Thus far, 57.5% of you gave the 2009 class 5 Paws (the highest mark), 38.4% (4 Paws) and 4.1% (3 Paws).

We're 25 days away from spring practice, but let's keep the football polling going....


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