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A few thoughts on FIU vs. Rice

Some scatter shots from the two FIU-Rice games I covered this weekend:

*The Rice coaching staff doesn't play. When centerfielder Charlie Warren caught a short fly ball for the second FIU out in Saturday's eighth inning with Rice up 10-1, he either miscounted the outsm forgot that Aramis Garcia was on third or didn't think Garcia would try to score on such a short fly ball. Garcia tagged and scored as Warren lazily jogged with the ball. Warren got yanked before the next batter got out of the on-deck circle. Even at 10-2, brain flatulence is not tolerated.

*The ump blew a call and probably cost FIU at least one run on L.K. Thompson's grounder in the fourth inning Sunday. With runners on first and second, Rice third baseman Shane Hoelscher grabbed the slow grass hugger and ran back to the bag. Hoelscher leaped over a sliding J.C. Escarra and, seemingly, the bag. FIU coach Turtle Thomas got in the umpire's face at Barry Allen speed to energetically argue the out call. Without that call, if all following at bats stay the same, FIU gets at least one more run out of the inning, probably two.

*Then again, Saturday's second inning play at the plate off a great throw by FIU left fielder Roche Woodard looked safe to me. The out call cost Rice a run they eventually didn't need anyway.

*Rosenberg's Rowdies showed up Saturday and got under some of the Rice fans' skin. From what I heard, the team didn't complain, the fans did. Not sure if I put this here or on Twitter, but they prompted some of the Middle Tennessee basketball staff to say amongst themselves, "We need to put our student section near the opposing bench," noting with admiration how annoying the Rowdies can be for such a small group.

*That I was outside at a table for the two games wasn't some athletic department punishment toward The Herald. It's a function of FIU's paucity of press box space. Anything less than me and two other scribes works. Radio, with its equipment, expands to space. When Stetson brought its radio team earlier this year and the radio equipment, there was one relatively narrow space in the press box for me. This time, with Rice radio, no room at the inn.

Sitting outside allowed me to meet some parents and darken the skin. But laptops don't take direct sunlight any better than melanin-deficient skin does. And in case of rain, well... 

My first thought as I watched FIU turn a 6-2 sixth inning lead into an 11-7 loss Sunday, thus going 0 for 3 against ranked Rice, was Trilogy of Terror, the TV movie cult classic best remembered for the third of three stories that starred Karen Black.

 

(When this popped up one night between my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I late one Friday night back in 1995, we got so giddy, I sprinted from Morton Towers to Blockbuster to rent it. That whole sentence looks archaic now...)

Then, my mind jumped to another trilogy, the Chuck Jones-directed Duck Season/Rabbit Season Warner Bros. cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd bouncing off each other. Although I know a few people got upset when I equated FIU to Daffy and Rice to Bugs in a Tweet, this seemed to fit. After talking to folks after the game and thinking about it on the drive home, it seemed even more tailored. Stay with me here:

Animation historian Joe Adamson, in Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years and Only One Grey Hare, writes, "...what becomes apparent is that Bugs is rooted in the forest, secure in his place there. Daffy is still trying to figure himself out."

Adamson quotes Richard Thompson, discussing the cartoons: "Bugs stands back from a situation, analyzes it, and makes his move; Daffy becomes emotionally involved, loses his distance, and blows it."

 

Now, listen to what pitcher Ty Sullivan said when I asked him just "What happened?"

“Looking at the way both of our teams played, Rice and us, we are as good if not better than them," Sullivan said. "But what went wrong with us was when one thing would happen, we would let things snowball instead of just minimizing (the damage). When we got into situations when our guys needed to make the big pitch or get the big hit, our guys started pressing, started trying to force it to happen instead of just relaxing, doing what we’ve done all season long, which is just compete at the plate and the mound, regardless o the score, the outs, who’s on base or who’s on deck. I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing we lost these games, but it shows what not to do in these situations against good opponents because we pretty much beat ourselves all weekend."

FIU didn't react to tight or bad situations this weekend with the cool confidence of believing in how good they are. Rice did. FIU's errors and misplays seemed to come in Costco packs. Rice's went solo. I don't know if the Panthers felt less sure of themselves because Rice looks like the best opponent on their schedule and clearly possesses the best pedigree.

"Sometimes, in baseball, you can try too little or you can try too hard," FIU coach Turtle Thomas said after Sunday's game. "Trying too little can mean you don't swing at enough pitches. Trying too hard means you chase too many bad pitches. We definitely chased a bunch."

Thomas figured FIU swung at 100 pitches outside the strike zone over the three days, then adjusted that up to 150 because "we chased more than three bad pitches per inning." 

By the end of Sunday's game, every fly ball and grounder seemed to come with a suspenseful drum roll. That hasn't been this season's FIU, day games or not. I covered Games 2-8 this season. I saw third baseman Josh Anderson steal more hits than Linda Ronstadt. He did again late Sunday, a diving spear that was almost as good as second baseman Edwin Rios' game of Laser Snag that ended the third inning. Left fielder Roche Woodard sailed to turn an extra base hit into an out, then doubled the runner off first.

That's more the Panthers I've covered this season than the Josh Anderson who spent Sunday losing arguments with grounders or the outfielders who flubbed fly balls. Thomas estimated FIU gave Rice Sunday's difference, four runs, on two misplayed fly balls alone. FIU had three errors Saturday, three Sunday and that's with a home official scorer judging with a grandparent's generosity. I hadn't seen FIU make a baserunning error yet. Sunday, when Edwin Rios tried to score Sunday from third on a grounder to first, it seemed the epitome of wanting too badly to do something significant.

It's only one series. FIU's still 16-4. As far as black and white, getting swept only hurts in terms of eventual conference tournament seeding.

“I think this series will probably help us more than hurt us because it shows us where our weaknesses are," Anderson said. "We’ve been tested in the games before but playing a top-ranked team like Rice really tested us. Our weaknesses stand out like a sore thumb. This is a team we need to beat to win Conference USA. There’s a lot of positives to take out of this weekend, too.

"We know our weaknesses. We know what we need to fix. We saw good pitching. We know we can hit good pitching. We know we can compete with that team. We know we belong where we’re ranked. We only lost one game before this series.”

 

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