While I spent Friday at Prime Italian -- haven't seen that much outkicking of coverage since Ray Guy retired -- and Saturday and Sunday at FIU Baseball Stadium, the FIU team with the new home ripped their way to an 8-2 record and the championship of the FIU Classic.
FIU opened and closed the tournament by zeroing out Georgia Southern, 8-0 by mercy rule on Friday and 2-0 in the championship game Sunday. Sophomore Corinne Jenkins had the circle throughout the first game and for the first six innings of the championship game. Junior Shelby Graves came in for the save, striking out two of the three batters she faced. Georgia Southern turned out to be Mission: Very Possible to Graves, who went three for three with two RBI in the opener.
Later that day, Graves took her turn in the circle as a starter against Gulf Coast. She lasted five innings, gave up four runs and seven hits, struck out five and went one for one hitting in FIU's 7-4 win. Freshman first baseman Stephanie Texeira, Conference USA Player of the Week in her first post-college week, cranked her first home run as part of a two for four night.
When I saw FIU would start Saturday against Wisconsin, I winced. I don't care if it's fast pitch, anytime you get Middle American corn-and-pork fed folks serious about softball from someplace serious about beer, I get seriously worried. Indeed, Wisconsin's the defending Big Ten tournament champion with seven players officially taller than FIU's five 5-7 players.
The Badgers mercy ruled FIU 8-0 in the first game. In the rematch later Saturday, Wisconsin marche to a 2-0 lead before junior Krystal Garcia's two-run double tied the game. Graves took the pitching baton from Jenkins and allowed one hit in the final two and two thirds innings. Meanwhile, freshman Stephanie Texiera, last week's Conference USA Co-Player of the Week, and sophomore Aleima Lopez went deep on the Badgers to put FIU up 4-2 on the way to a 5-2 win.
Texeira's adjusting well to college ball: team high's .500 batting average, .857 slugging percentage, 14 hits, four doubles, .595 on-base percentage. With the six hit-by-pitches, it looks like a 10-game Frank Robinson stat line.
Over at FIU Baseball Stadium, the Panthers sandwiched a pair of Saturday routs of Rutgers with one-run wins in front of friends, family and a bunch of scouts who came to check out junior catcher Aramis Garcia.
Garcia didn't disappoint, other than a passed ball and throwing error early in Saturday's second game. He threw out runners. He handled FIU's pitchers well. He hit .615 with a .688 on-base percentage in the four-game series, finishing with a three for four Sunday. Everybody besides Garcia found Sunday Rutgers starter Kevin Baxter harder to hit than the Cash 3.
"Their pitching staff will throw any pitch any count -- fastball, changeup, anything -- so you can't sit on any pitches," said FIU's Josh Anderson, seven for 14 with 5 RBI on the weekend. "They'll throw 2-1 breaking balls, 1-0 changeups and throw them for strikes. They were doing a good job mixing up all the pitches. He was keeping the ball down. He was throwing strikes. We were a litle antsy. We got a lot of hits (Saturday). We probably wanted to pick up where we left off."
Defensively, shortstop Julius Gaines vacillates from Gaines the Great to Gaines Burgers -- three throwing errors, but at least four plays of athletic wonderfulness, shortstop by Alvin Ailey. But it was the same last year, when Gaines' fielding percentage was .884. With second baseman Edwin Rios, who started one double play with a diving stab and flip to Gaines all with just the glove, and Gaines, FIU has an effective and flashy double play combination. FIU turned eight double plays in the first four games. The Panthers turned 50 in 58 games last year.
It was nice to see junior Mike Ellis back from an almost crushing back injury navigating five innings the way he did Saturday evening.
"It was a big injury for me," Ellis said. "I've never had to deal with anything like that. I had some doubts over the summer if it was ever going to be the same. I'm stronger than I was last season. I feel more refined mechanically. My body hasn't been in this good a shape ever."
Freshman Christopher Mourelle, from Southwest High, pitched an inning in relief of Ellis Saturday. Mourelle will get the start against Stetson Wednesday. The other freshman trying to grab the fourth starting spot, Cody Crouse, went five innings, giving up six hits and was responsible for two runs.
"Cody did a nice job. I don't think he ran out of gas because his pitch count wasn't high going into the sixth (he wound up at 60)," FIU coach Turtle Thomas said. "I think what happened, in the bottom of the fifth, not that we did a whole lot offensively, but the inning took a long time. And, I think he might've lost his focus sitting over there. That happens to young guys after they've been out there four, five, six innings at times."