Prattville, Ala. -- Short stay for your Panthers at the Sun Belt Tournament in Troy. It was 2 and Bar-BQ for FIU. But a pretty good Bar-BQ spread provided by the hospitable Troy University staff.
Some of you had dreams of Omaha this season for FIU, but let's be honest the Panthers were not going to win the Sun Belt Tournament. Yours truly thought the Panthers would at least make the Sun Belt semifinals, that's why I'm still in Bama. It being Memorial Day weekend, there are no flights available until Sunday morning.
FIU had a quick exit from the SBC tourney, because of a lack of pitching depth and as we saw firsthand a lack of postseason experience which is quite different than playing in the friendly confines of University Park Stadium.
Still, looking at the FIU record books this was the greatest turnaround season in FIU baseball history. The Panthers improvement from 20-36 in 2008 to 34-21 this season was 14 wins better and 15 less losses better. The 2009 Panthers surpassed the 1995 FIU team which improved to 49-7 after going 37-19 in 1994.
Forget about the conditions of Troy's Riddle-Pace Field (the racquetball court/ballpark), for every team the ball bounced like that little rubber ball you would get as a kid from the 25 cent machines in Publix. At times the field came into play, but FIU lost because FIU didn't have enough pitching, FIU didn't hit like the .325 average it had during the regular season and FIU didn't catch the ball (7 errors in 2 games). It's a simple game: you hit the ball, you catch the ball, you throw the ball.
What FIU gained the most from the SBC Tournament was the postseason experience -- where every team takes their game to another level and every at-bat and every pitch is that much more important.
On the FIU 25-man travel roster, 0 players had ever played in a Sun Belt Tournament. FIU had not been to the conference tournament since 2006. 18 of the 31 players on the FIU roster this season were underclassmen (13 freshmen and 5 sophomores).
Like 2nd baseman Ryan Mollica -- 1 of only 2 seniors on the team (Steven Stropp the other sr.) --said after Thursday's elimination game: "This was a good experience for the young guys. They will be back here."
Opening Night 2010 is 272 days away and by then the Panthers will have to find replacements for Mollica, who is one of the best hitting infielders in FIU history. Stropp and likely Tyler Townsend, who is expected to be a high draft pick in June.
Raiko Alfonso likely will move from 3B to 2B next season. Sean Reilly, Doug Joyce and Casey Hanrahan will battle for the starting catcher job and there is plenty of power headed to FIU whether Tyler stays or goes pro.
Among the big bats expected at FIU next season (if MLB doesn't snatch them up in the draft) are: outfielder/infielder Josh Garton, one of the top hitters in Tennessee; 5-tool outfielder Yoandy Barroso; Texas slugging 1st baseman Rudy Flores and outfielder Jabari Henry, who is projected as a top 10 round draft pick. Of course, there could be more offensive surprises in store -- stay tuned for that.
But you don't win much if you don't have quality arms on the mound. Got a feeling Scott Rembisz and Tom Ebert will stick around for their senior seasons. SR said recently he sees himself coming back, because he still has a lot to learn pitching-wise. Ebert, who has been looked at by the Red Sox and Marlins, is a pre-med student and said he would like to graduate.
Among the help on the mound for next season: we'll get to see Dominican right-hander Miguel Mejia, who some believe has the best stuff of any FIU pitcher. And Bryam Garcia, who was an all-JUCO pitcher last season. Both Mejia and Garcia were ineligible this season and redshirted.
Also headed to the UP Stadium mound is Florida JUCO Pitcher of the Year Logan Dodds and Albert Cardenas from Palmetto Ridge High, whose velocity and nasty breaking pitches could make him the closer next season. And of course 272 days from now there might be other pitchers to don the blue and gold.