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2 posts from February 17, 2013

February 17, 2013

FIU finishes rolling Stony

Of course Sunday ended with the starter and game-winner dragging the infield.

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"That's my field duty," junior Mike Franco said after FIU's 1-0 win. "No matter even if I throw a complete game shutout, I have to do it."

Franco, who popped a 94 mph fastball Sunday, said he definitely felt he could've gone beyond his 45-pitch limit, but didn't argue with sticking to the plan to complete his recovery from last April's Tommy John surgery. He also used the word "Omaha" when talking about FIU.

Clearly, Franco felt good about himself and his team after FIU went three for three against Stony Brook Saturday and Sunday. Hey, everybody feels good when they haven't been scored on in 23 innings. FIU coach Turtle Thomas complimented the Panthers pitching, but also allowed that a northern team like Stony Brook's still thawing out their game this early in the season.

Though coming out of real winter (snow, ice), the Stony Brook fans looked just as uncomfortable in Florida winter (Sunday) as the FIU fans did. Everybody in each team's colors seemed to have a hoodie on or hunching their shoulders in a vain attempt to turn their collar into a hoodie. This wasn't Soldier Field, where Wisconsin and Minnesota ("Gophers!") played hockey Sunday, but the weather wasn't conducive to hitting, either.

Also not conducive to offense: Edwin Rios' glove. In Saturday's 10-4 win, Rios stopped a sizzling line drive down the line with the bases loaded that should've been a run-scoring double (at least). Instead, he took care of the inning's third out.

Sunday, with Stony's Austin Shives on third and one out, Rios snagged a hard grounder from Cole Peragine, fastened the runner to third with a staple gun stare, then stepped on first for the force out. A ground out to second later, FIU was out of the seventh inning.

"He's kind of our jack of all trades -- he can play second, short, first, third," Turtle Thomas said. "I told him one practice day, take ground balls at third and short. Next practice day, take 'em at second and first."

Meanwhile, umpire Damien Beal seemed to be giving pitchers half the outside batters box. Some called strikes looked closer to home plate of the nearest Tamiami Park diamond. But, credit to Beal, he maintained consistency. Neither team really adjusted to his strike zone. FIU's Zach Sweety struck out looking three times and six of FIU's eight strikeouts were with bat on the shoulder. When FIU's Mike Gomez got Shives looking in the ninth, Shives had the nerve to look at Beal with shock and dismay. The plate ump's been giving pitchers both dugouts all day, you're down 1-0 and you're taking a close two-strike pitch with a man on first in the last inning? Shives needed to save that look for the mirror.

Or Stony's third base coach. This really should've been a tie game going into the bottom of the ninth. With Peragine on first in the fourth, Steven Goldstein whistled a double down the first base line that bounced into the right field corner. Easy score for anyone faster than Fat Albert. Instead, Peragine got the hold up.

You haven't scored on a team in two days, your lineup's leadoff hitter is on first, you get a shot down the line that's at least a double, Keith Moreland and Cesar Geronimo are nowhere to be found in right field and you hold the runner? I thought the third base coach should be jumping up and down, windmilling the arms, yelling "Run, Sweetback! Run!"

Clearly, Goldstein expected Peragine to receive encouragement similar to that. He rounded second without a thought of braking until he saw Peragine reversing to third. This, of course, resulted in a rundown, Josh Anderson tagging out Peragine and FIU preserving its lead.

Sophomore shortstop Julius Gaines went three for four Sunday, seven for 10 in the series, and scored Sunday's only run.

"He's been swinging well in the three weeks we've been practicing and continued right on into the season," Thomas said. "He's gotten some added strength this year."

 

More (mostly baseball) stuff from A Great Day at Camp Mitch

 While Friday’s rain made for some long Saturdays for FIU athletes, coaches and staff, it did set up a pretty impressive Don Larsen Day for FIU: 6-0 across four teams playing at Camp Mitch Saturday, 2-0 at each venue.

Softball reversed its fortunes after a tough start last weekend with wins over UConn (3-2) and Binghamton (4-3) in the Blue/Gold Felsberg Memorial. Inside The Branch, a lot of defense and Jerica gave the women’s basketball team a 72-53 blowout of Western Kentucky. And the men’s basketball team finished the double spanking of the Hilltoppers with an 87-82 win.

Baseball took out Stony Brook 10-4 in the postponed season opener and 3-0, a game that started late but FIU pitching further delayed Stony Brook’s bats from making an appearance.

Most of this blog focuses on baseball, as that’s where I spent an hour Friday (after spending an hour and a half getting there in Friday traffic) and all day Saturday.

The baseball field’s left field lights held a lights out strike early in Game 2. Turtle Thomas, Stony Brook coach Matt Senk and the umpires got together before the third inning to discuss the matter. FIU had just cranked two deep flyouts to that increasingly dark part of the park. The lights to the adjoining soccer field got turned on as a help, an amusing idea considering the limited effect the soccer field’s lights have on darkness taking over the soccer field.

All agreed to play on. Thomas said if Senk had wanted the game halted, FIU would’ve stopped.

“Because they’re our guests.” Thomas said.

Four new pitchers did a masterful job for FIU Saturday. Stony Brook roughed up Game 1 starter Mike Ellis a bit with only four hits, but four runs, all earned, in four innings.  Junior college transfer Ty Sullivan tamed the rowdy Stony Brook bats for four innings before freshman Dillion Maya finished the show. In Game 2, FIU brooked no rowdiness from The Brook as Tyler Alexander gave up four hits in six innings and Mitchell Davis allowed two baserunners while striking out three in two innings. Senior Mike Gomez put the bow on the game, easily.

Here’s three of the new guys on their night.

Alexander:  “I do the chart (for the first game’s pitchers), so I was ready for whatever. I knew that if I came hard and live off my change up a little bit, then I could come back in with the hard stuff. It seemed to work.

“I feel like they struggled with the fastball. They were sitting on speed. They waited on the first pitch strike. They made you throw that first strike.”

Sullivan:  “All through those four innings, I noticed they were an aggressive team, but at the same time, they were patient. They were picking and choosing pitches. I could see why they were a College World Series team. They didn’t lay off anything that was off the plate. When I went out there, my goal was just pound it, pound it. Especially with guys on base in big situations, throw that off speed stuff for strikes. “

“They were really patient hitters, but when they got their pitch, they were really aggressive on it. So if it was in the strike zone, they were attacking it. In first two or three innings for me, they were looking for that fastball up, but I threw a couple of changeups and sliders that would break late. They swing over the top of a lot of those, so that started to work well.”

Mitchell Davis: “I had a live fastball today. A lot of off speed, my slider, my go-to pitch was on. Can’t complain on that. Changeup was a little off. Figured it out. Got that working and once I had all three working, it was no shot for the other team.”

If Davis sounds confident, well, yeah. Facing his first batter with the game scoreless, he fielded a grounder, then launch a shoulder missile wide and far of first. The runner got sacrificed to third.

“I knew I could get out of that and keep us tied up so we could get the lead next inning,” Davis said.

He got Anthony Italiano to fly out to second, walked leadoff hitter Cole Peragine, then struck out Steven Goldstein. The next inning, FIU took a 1-0 lead.

Davis, who went to Grayson County College, then Northeast Texas Junior College before coming to FIU, made the National Honor Society in high school.

(Hearing “National Honor Society” always reminds me of this piece of Dolphins trivia: the Dolphins only playoff team of the last decade, 2008, had a Rhodes Scholar candidate at quarterback, Chad Pennington, and three former National Honor Society members. Two you could predict: son of an Stanford professor Greg Camarillo and Donald Thomas, a UConn graduate raised in the shadow of Yale. The third? Channing Crowder.)

Anyway, someone with the intellect and/or work ethic to be a National Honor Society member going to a junior college is akin to someone with four-star recruit physical ability playing Division II.

“It was a pretty difficult decision,” Davis said. “I decided it was a good opportunity. I got injured my senior year. So, juco was my route because I didn’t get offered to big time D-1s like I wanted to. I knew I needed to get my name out there.”

Davis said the academic scholarships he could get didn’t cover as much as the academic-athletic or the athletics-only scholarships baseball might bring.

“(He and his family) just get by so I needed as much help as I could get,” the Fort Worth native said.

Another new pitcher from Texas, Corpus Christi’s Mike Franco, got penciled in as the Sunday starter earlier this week. When Franco whistled a 95 to 96 mph fastball in preseason training, it rated not on the Wow Factor scale, but on the Say What? Factor scale.

“It was one of those days,” Franco said. “There’s adrenaline going, first time being out of the mound in a couple of months, coming back from my injury and I just felt good.”

Franco’s coming off Tommy John surgery last April after tearing ligaments in his elbow. That he’s pitching at all speaks to persistence.

“Truthfully, a lot of people were (wondering) if I would even come back by this season,” Franco said. “Coach Thomas didn’t think I was going to come back for this season. I was determined to throw this year. I couldn’t sit out another year.”

Even should Franco start later today, he’ll be on a pitch count that increases by five each weekend. Still, that kind of fastball injects some anticipation into Sunday afternoon’s series closer.

 


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