After going almost two years between conference team titles in all sports, FIU could get two in three months.
The golf team, which brought home the 2013 Sun Belt Conference title, finished second in the Mountain View Collegiate with junior Meghan MacLaren (7-under 209) getting medalist by three shots. Freshman Katerina Krasnova (2-under 214) tied for 10th.
Finishing ahead of FIU: Ohio State. Among the 18 teams finishing behind FIU: Purdue, Kansas State, Iowa State, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and BYU.
Junior Edwin Rios went into Saturday's game against Charlotte barely hitting his weight. He came out a chunk closer to C.C. Sabathia's weight, up to .256, after going four for four with three home runs in a 23-1 Saturday mercy rule rout of Charlotte. It was the first homer hat trick in Conference USA since June 5, 2010.
Senior Brian Portelli went four for five with four RBI and a homer as FIU finally stopped making every lefthanded opposing pitcher look like Warren Spahn. The Panthers need to use this weekend against Charlotte and next weekend against Marshall to turn around this 10-13 season that's been the epitome of underachievement.
(I'm sure all the FIU players and coaches had the same thought you just did -- boy, wish they could store some of those runs...)
FIU football held its second spring practice Saturday morning. Ron Turner would address the outside media for the first time this spring. Practice was closed.
Not enough of a draw for me to wrestle South Florida/South Beach traffic on a scheduled day off with the NCAA tournament, naps and vacation staring me in the face. If something serious happens while I'm on vaca (i.e., coach firing, notable player transferring in or out, players showing full or just too much monty at the beach), I'll suit up and get back in the game. Otherwise...
Practice was closed, sort of -- classes in the suites weren't cancelled, so someone who cared to look noticed that junior Anthon Samuel got the first running back reps of the drills seen with sophomores Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell behind him.
Alex Gardner's laptop screen saver is a shot of the play against Marshall on which his season ended last year. It reminds him of how much he missed.
Freshman Anthony Jones said he lined up at wide receiver Thursday. Not a tall young man, but a thick one -- big chest and arms, looks sturdy enough to take some hits without breaking.
An injury to the groin area will cost senior third baseman Josh Anderson a month of this season. And so does FIU's baseball season continue to spin out. The 9-12 Panthers get a chance to turn things around with Charlotte coming in for three games this weekend.
Funny what you can learn sitting around the arena on a Friday afternoon.
Executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia passed with Senior Associate ADs Julie Berg and Heath Glick and invited me along to look at the choice of new chairs for FIU Arena.
At least all the lower bowl chairs in the arena will be replaced. That's the "Bleacher Project" referred to in the pre-Miss Universe e-mail to Glick as "likely scrapped."
The other project mentioned as "likely scrapped" in that e-mail, the softball/golf locker room, should be started after FIU hosts Conference USA softball championships, according to Garcia and Berg. The new practice area for the track and field throwers, also part of the Women's Sports Initiative, should be done before the year's out. Garcia said a major upgrading of the baseball stadium will be coming in the next year or two.
A major donation should be announced soon that'll pay for the baseball stadium and arena seat replacement. The other projects should be covered under what's been collected for the Women's Sports Initiative.
Recently, I heard again from someone close to the situation, as I did last fall, that the long-awaited soccer/track stadium will become a reality once FIU takes over the Youth Fair land. Don't confuse this with any drive to get Major League Soccer as a temporary FIU tenant. This pitch would be for FIU and youth teams.
Considering the amount of time we've been waiting on this project, all skepticism until dirt gets disturbed is warranted.
The Felsberg Invitational on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium went thusly for FIU: three for three against Bethune-Cookman, even 1-1 split with Michigan State (shutout win, close loss to Big Ten dregs) and a loss in their only game against Ole Miss (resident of the SEC softball's Bikini Bottom).
All of FIU's goals -- a 40-win season, conference title, NCAA tournament regional berth -- remain in play for the preseason Conference USA co-favorites when the conference season starts Friday with a three-game home series against Marshall. And after losing their Felsberg opener to Ole Miss 5-0, they came two runs from sweeping the remaining five games.
After the loss to Ole Miss, FIU coach Gator Rebhan immediately criticized sophomore Stephanie Texeira for impatience at the plate with runners in scoring position. In the next five games, Texeira went eight for 12 with three doubles, a home run and six RBI. Pitcher Corrinne Jenkins pitched a perfect 2 1/3 relief innings in the 4-3 loss to Michigan State, and gave up only two hits in five innings that comprised the 4-0 shutout.
That first game featured Rebhan-coached FIU vs. FIU Past -- Ole Miss with last year's FIU head coach Jake Schumann and a former FIU assistant Sharon Palma as assistant coaches to Mike Smith.
This wasn't just one of 54 on the schedule for FIU. Unfortunately, it wound up being closer to zero of 54 after FIU managed three hits on Ole Miss pitcher Emily Gaitan.
"Obviously, it was a little bittersweet," Schumann said. "This is my team now and I would've been really upset if we'd lost the game. Part of you really wants those kids at FIU to do well. You brought them in, you put the time in. I'm not as excited as I would be, like I was in game 1 when we came back and won that game (after four last inning runs on Bethune to send the game to extra innings)."
Ole Miss carries the same "SEC team" designation that 2014 College World Series winner Florida and runner up Alabama carry and with all that means. That's about where the similarity ends. The preseason SEC poll picked Ole Miss last and the program's history of losing almost matches that of the Florida Panthers.
"A couple of things I've had to adjust to: I've been a head coach for 14 years. So, not being the boss, but being OK with the decisions being made," said Schumann, who handles the infield and the hitters. "Obviously, going to a town of 16,000 people in the middle of a forest from Miami is a big shock. There's not much to do especially on Sunday when everything's closed."
Schumann's first coaching job above mid-major level opened his eyes about the current state of college athletics.
"It's obviously haves and have nots. The Power Five conferences definitely have an advantage over all the other conferences in the country. Coming from both, and actually seeing it, it is a big difference," he said. "Hopefully, the NCAA will do something to even it out, but I think it's just going to keep becoming a wider span (between the Power 5 and Group of 5 conferences). Not that teams like FIU shouldn't beat SEC schools or ACC schools or Big 12 schools, but the resources -- from academics to food to travel to everything -- is just so vast. It takes a lot of pressure off of you as coach. All you have to do is coach."
An FIU coach told me that at most schools, they fund raise for extras. At FIU, coaches fund raise to survive.
"Don't have to fund-raise at all," Schumann said. "All I have to do is coach and recruit."
And for more money in a cheaper market.
This is why, without some of the fund-raising groups you see at Rice or snagging someone tethered to South Florida, FIU's non-baseball head coaching jobs always will have a problem avoiding being seen as stepping stones.
FIU took three of four from Manhattan College, outscoring the Jaspers 46-12. FIU got in batting practice. Manhattan got to escape the emasculating cold of New York. Call it a win-win.
The City of Birmingham, quivering like Rock Ridge before Mongo, closed all public facilities Wednesday in fear of what places in the former Confederacy consider major snowfall. This condensed the Conference USA Indoor Track & Field Championships to a one-day event.
Not so condensed were the throws of FIU junior Raquarra Ishmar, who turned today into Throw Forward Thursday by winning the women's weight throw and finishing second in the shot put.
Ishmar (63 feet, 4 inches), junior Chelsea Goburne (59-1/4) and sophomore Chandra Fullwood (56-3 1/4) gave FIU its strongest team performance of the day, a 1-4-6 finish, in the weight throw. Going into the last two throws, the 61-2 from Western Kentucky's Janessa Jackson held the lead. Ishmar cranked off a 62-footer to take the lead, then muscled out the 63-4 on her last throw to hammer home who the alpha female was in this event.
Ishmar finished a solid second in the shot, her 50-8 3/4 being 1-8 1/2 ahead of third place Rachel Polk of Southern Miss and 8-2 behind Rice blowout winner, Claire Uke.
In the men's triple jump, junior Marcus Ghent reached 50-2 3/4 to finish second by 4 3/4 inches behind Western's Cyrus Johnson. Ghent also picked up points with a sixth place long jump of 22-8 1/2.
The team standings found the women finishing ninth of 13 and the men finishing ninth of nine.
Jake Schumann, FIU's coach the last three seasons, knows the way to Felsberg Field. So does former FIU pitching assistant coach Sharon Palma.
So, the Ole Miss bus shouldn't get lost on the way to Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium for Friday's opening of this weekend's Felsberg Invitational. The 8-4 Rebels are scheduled to play Bethune-Cookman at 2. Bethune will rest while FIU and Ole Miss get it on at 4:30. FIU plays Bethune at 7 p.m.
Last week, FIU saw the fourth member of last year's coaching staff (current FIU head coach Gator Rebhan was an assistant last year), current Texas State assistant coach Kelly Kretschman. It wasn't a happy reunion for the Panthers, losing 8-0.
Manhattan comes down for its four-game winter beating from FIU. Two years ago, the Jaspers got bombed in the first two games and outscored 40-17 for the three-game series.
By the way, did you know that FIU got back from last week's tournament in South Carolina around 7:30 a.m. after a 13-hour bus ride and some players had to hit class immediately? That's unfair to the student-athletes.
There should be a rule that teams have to fly if the road trip ends over a set number of hours away from the main campus and the team has class the next day.
SWIMMING & DIVING
FIU coach Randy Horner's contract is up at the end of April, two months after FIU won the Conference USA women's swimming & diving title. That's producing when the time's right.
Horner makes just over $57,000 in a contract that began when FIU wasn't close to competitive in the Sun Belt and ends with FIU being one of the nation's best mid-major teams. They've also been the top academic team on campus three of the previous four years.
That's the kind of work that'll attract attention if a Power Five school with manatees in the pool wants someone who can transform the team into motorboats. And that school will offer a significant raise. Just as an example, Michigan State clearly doesn't care about its swim program. The Spartans annually finish in the bottom two at the Big Ten meet and have for two decades. Yet, head coach Matt Gianiodis has held that job since October 2003.
All those signs of department apathy toward a sport and Gianiodis still gets paid over $76,000 while living in East Lansing, Michigan, a cheaper market than Miami. They might be paying Gianiodis extra for staying in East Lansing, which one Michigan State graduate I talked with Thursday called "Siberia" and about which Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins quipped, "It looks like Stalingrad."
Anyway, that's just an example of why FIU might want to give Horner more than a little bump when it puts rings on the swimming & diving women's fingers.
Some might wonder if former FIU assistant coach Desma Thomas Bateast, now an assistant coach at South Florida, might want to come back to rebuild the program. Putting the hard hat on to deal with this catastrophe takes a relatively young, energetic coach and she's familiar with the place.
That doesn't always work in the school's favor, understand...
The buses fired up Sunday to bring everybody home after their wins. Well, except for the women's basketball team, which came home by plane after another two-loss road trip, leaving them zero for Conference USA.
Softball, now 11-6, came back from the EMU Madeira Beach Invitational after battering Villanova, Columbia and North Dakota by a combined 26-2, edging Wichita State 6-5 and getting mercy-ruled 8-0 by Texas State (with 2014 FIU assistant coach Kelly Kretschman).
Brianna Bartuccio threw the four-hit shutout in the opening 4-0 win against Villanova and Shelby Graves whipped a one-hit shutout on Columbia, 7-0. Gabby Spallone's grand slam accounted for all the scoring against Villanova. Stephanie Texeira knocked two out of the park against Columbia while Krystal Garcia went two for three with a homer and two RBI.
A Texeira homer provided half the scoreboard total for FIU against Wichita State. In the bottom of the sixth, down 4-3, Texeira doubled and was replaced by pinch runner Marisa McGregor. Krys Garcia singled in McGregor. After a walk to Dominique Grossman, Aleima Lopez doubled the two runs home. Corinne Jenkins went the distance, giving up only five hits. But, two were solo shots to Melanie Jaegers, two other batters reached base by being hit and defensive errors put two others on base.
This weekend's Panther Invitational opens Friday with a game against Ole Miss and associate head coach Jake Schumann, FIU head coach 2012-14.
Hours after the softball bus left Madiera, in a Carolina weekend's gloaming, the baseball bus revved to leave South Carolina. The arctic weather that sent southerners calling northern friends and family to learn about starting the car in the morning wrecked the weekend schedule for the Caravell Resorts Baseball at the Beach. So, FIU wound up playing a doubleheader Sunday against North Carolina Central before the long bus ride back.
(That's the same North Carolina Central you'll see during football season as FIU's lone non-conference opponent).
Andres Nunez got the win in the 4-0 opener after pitching six and two-thirds, striking out four and giving up four hits. All four runs came in the third inning, two on a Brian Portelli double and Portelli came on on Zach Soria's single.
The nightcap (afternoon cap?) provided fans with the one thing FIU didn't need -- bonus baseball. Better than a loss, however. That's what FIU avoided when Portelli doubled in Jack Schaaf in the bottom of the seventh. In the bottom of the 13th, a Jack Schaaf home run brought in Ray Perez and a 7-5 win. Now at 4-4 after a tough early schedule, FIU swings bats at Manhattan this weekend.
Hours before, FIU's swimming & diving team got on a bus for the three-hour ride to Atlanta with the Conference USA Championship Trophy. The trophy got prize seating and was the first off the bus when the team arrived back on campus to a nicely whipped up welcome in the Parkview Hall breezeway.
From what I gather, Senior Associate AD Julie Berg did much of the heavy lifting to organize this. She and Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub were present.
Good for President Mark Rosenberg to mention the team's athletics-leading academic accomplishments, too, because that's one of the things that really makes this the department's best all-around team.
Rosenberg handed the mike to FIU Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell for a review of the Conference USA meet. Jessell, by the way, donated $4,000 to the program last fall. His son, John Jessell, was a good swimmer at Florida State for four years.
Head coach Randy Horner, named Conference USA Coach of the Year Saturday, arrived in 2010. At that time, forget a conference champion, the school hadn't had an all-conference swimmer in any event since 2007. So, no individual or relay team in the top two of the Sun Belt.
Now, a perfect dual meet season. A Conference USA title with six swimming, one diving and one relay title. The third conference Swimmer of the Year award in the last four years (should be four for four -- Gustafsdottir got ripped off in 2013 after two firsts, a second, leading off three relay winners at the Sun Belt meet). And freshman and sophomore classes that look as if they'll make FIU a mid-major problem for everybody else the next several years.
I'm sure his contract has bonus clauses for a conference title and conference coach of the year (and adidas chips in $1,000 retail of product for the latter). But it sounds like somebody needs a bump from $57,590.
Because nobody wanted to play baseball in football or hockey weather, Friday's action at the Caravelle Resort's Baseball at the Beach tournament has been rescheduled. FIU will play doubleheaders on Saturday (Georgia Tech, North Carolina State) and Sunday (two vs. North Carolina Central).
Then, they'll bus home from South Carolina. That hindrance to the student-athletes' physical and educational well-being doesn't happen to a baseball program from a well-funded athletic department.
While FIU Baseball couldn't get three up, three down enough in a 12-2 loss to Stetson, the swimmers sort of went one up, one down, one out on Day 1 of the Conference USA meet.
FIU sits third, appropriate as that's where the Panthers finished in each of the two relays. FIU's 64 points puts it 10 points behind Rice and Western Kentucky. Rice won the 200 medley relay in 1:38.11. Western won the 800 freestyle relay in 7:12.21, .09 ahead of Rice.
The Panthers' 1:39.28 in the 200 medley relay smashed the school record of 1:41.78 set at November's Mizzou Invite. Same cast as November -- freshman Silvia Scalia on backstroke, senior Klara Andersson on breaststroke, sophomore Jenny Deist anchoring on freestyle -- save freshman Letizia Bertelli instead of sophomore Jenny Alfani on the butterfly leg.
"It was very fast, we got out strong," FIU coach Randy Horner said. "We did pretty well. We couldn't be disappointed with that swim. Our opponents were very good."
The 800 free relay finished in 7:13.17, less than a second from Western and Rice as well as second fastest for FIU behind 7:12.70 at the 2013 Sun Belt Championships. But that's the race that put the disappointment in Horner's voice.
"I really thought we could win the 800 relay," he said. "We got behind and, in that relay, you get behind and you start to try to catch up in a 200 right away..."
After senior Johanna Gustafsdottir's leadoff leg in 1:46.96, FIU was third behind FAU by .74 hundredths and Western by .64 hundredths. Junior Karin Tomeckova left the pool in 1:49.23 with FIU behind now-leading Western by 2.51 seconds and FAU by 1.46 seconds. Freshman Skye Carey (1:49.54) lost only .09 more to Western, and made up 1.18 seconds on FAU. But Rice senior ace Casey Clark water walked down almost everybody with the race's fastest leg, 1:45.91. Scalia's 1:47.44 anchor leg pushed FIU past FAU and into third.
"We weren't flat," Horner said. "We paid the price for some inexperience and made some strategic mistakes because we were too amped up."
Thursday brings the 500 free, 200 individual medley, 50 free and 3-meter diving. Brittney Fant, Jessica Chadwick, Kyla Pereira, Nadia Farrugia, Courtney VanderSchaaf and Skye Carey will handle the 500 for FIU. Gustafsdottir, the defending 200 IM champion, Scalia and Becky Wilde should make for a happy 200 IM. If Andersson, Alfani, Deist and freshman Paulina Zelazna pile up the points in the 50 free, there's going to be some squeaky sphincters at Rice and Western going into Friday.
FIU's best diver, freshman Rebecca Quesnel, suffered a concussion at the Canadian Nationals two weeks ago and hasn't been cleared to dive yet. Obviously, that puts pieces of the piano on the backs of fellow divers sophomore Lily Kaufmann, Natalia and Laura Coronado and Abbey Spaulding.
It's a day of relays so I thought I'd close with this...
The baseball team's stopping at Stetson for a game today as they bus all the way up to the Carolinas for the Caravelle Resorts Baseball at the Beach tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina in Conway, South Carolina.
According to FIU, Friday's doubleheader against Georgia Tech and Coastal Carolina has been postponed because they're expecting the kind of weather that inspired James Naismith to invent the indoor game of basketball. FIU will practice in Jacksonville on Thursday, then in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Friday. The Panthers will play a doubleheader on Saturday and, possibly, one on Sunday. Opponents still to be decided.
Then, they'll bus home. Yes, bus, just like they're getting there. It saves money over traveling via plane, which would get the players -- student-athletes, remember? -- home sooner and fresher for classes.
Now, some people might say the baseball program not being budgeted enough money to fly to this tournament brings up the issues of Athletics' fund-raising and where Athletics is spending the money they have.
For some reason, this clip from St. Louis Blues seemed appropriate. And not because it's hockey season or Black History Month.
The spring practice schedule came out today.
Practice 9-11:30 a.m. on Mar. 23, 24, 26, 30, 31; Apr. 2, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14, 16.
You can skip this unless you're an athletics business wonk. Or just curious.
A few things about the deal with adidas, announced by FIU in January as a five-year deal worth around $2.6 million:
*FIU gets adidas footwear, clothes, equipment and accessories, but not for free. They get sort of a Costco deal on stuff -- shoes at 45 percent off retail price; clothes, equipment and accessories 50 percent off retail for everyone but baseball/softball, which gets only 37.5 percent off The Price is Right price. But baseball/softball gets theirs elsewhere, as you’ll soon see. FIU must spend at least $300,000 each year, which is air hockey money for a properly-funded Division I athletic program.
*If FIU does spend $300,000 each year, it gets an additional $260,000 retail value of adidas product (stuff) in 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, $285,000 in 2018-19 and $310,000 in 2019-2020.
*For the football team using adidas footballs in practices and games, FIU gets $10,000 retail value of product each year.
*Under “Athletic Department Fund Raising”, adidas gives FIU $15,000 of retail product value each year.
*There’s various bonuses for team achievement and Coach of the Year. The largest realistically attainable one is $20,000 retail value product for a football team bowl appearance.
*Baseball gets the most extra stuff. Softball will get the same stuff in “an amount to be agreed upon when Adidas introduced these hardgoods” according to the contract. (Yes, I think it should be “introduces” but I’m quoting directly from the contract, so…)
Each year, FIU Baseball gets:
Up to 48 wood bats, up to 42 non-wood bats, 6 aluminum fungo bats, up to 36 fielder’s gloves, up to 40 wheeled locker equipment bags, up to 40 individual duffel bags, 6 coach’s briefcases, 5 wheeled catcher bags (two to be used for equipment), up to 96 pairs of batting gloves (replaced by wear and tear), up to 96 pairs of wristbands, up to 25 batting helmets, up to 6 sets of catching gear.
432 fitted baseball hats
$34,000 retail value of free product.
$4,000 retail value of free product for the head coach
The only other individual in the athletic department who gets free product is the athletic director, who gets $10,000 retail value of free product each year.
With three of the five polls reporting, FIU baseball made it to No. 23 in one poll and got an almost-not-quite in two others after taking two of three from Tennessee.
Baseball America put FIU at No. 23. The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Top 30 dropped Tennessee from No. 29 to out and lists FIU in an alphabetical listing of others receiving votes. D1Baseball.com, which ranked Tennessee at No. 25 in its Top 25 poll, dropped the Volunteers and put FIU under "Also Receiving Consideration."
("Some I consider my girlfriends. Some I just consider." -- John Bender, The Breakfast Club)
Collegiate Baseball's rankings didn't include FIU and doesn't list any schools outside its Top 30. I'll update later as the USA Today Coaches poll gets released.
Meanwhile, FIU's sand volleyball team got ranked ninth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll released Monday. Pepperdine's No. 1 with USC No. 2. Florida State breaks the West Coast dominance at No. 3, but between Tallahassee at No. 3 and Miami at No. 9, it's all Pacific Coast -- Hawaii, Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount, UCLA, Saint Mary's.
FIU opens its season Mar. 7 at the Stetson Spring Break Tournament.
UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Men's basketball, vs. Rice, Thursday, 8 p.m.
Softball, vs. Villanova, Friday, 11 a.m.
Softball, vs. Wichita State, Friday, 4 p.m.
Softball, vs. Columbia, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Softball, vs. Texas State, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Men's basketball, vs. North Texas, Saturday, 6 p.m.
Holding sophomore pitcher Chris Mourelle's start until Sunday could be described as having an ace in the hole by putting an ace in the hole.
And when Mourelle didn't get betrayed by his defense -- zero Panthers errors Sunday after 12 the first two games -- he gave up only two walks and a hit in the first five innings of a 3-0 staff shutout of Tennessee.
FIU winning two of three from an SEC team ranked in a few polls injects some interest in the next round of baseball rankings. FIU just did the equivalent of a strong showing in the Iowa primary. A small rise in the polls should be imminent.
The Pelonis Space Heater! Yes, this little baby, brought by me to Saturday's game from the home it's served since the 2009-10 winter days that dipped into the 30s, warmed fingers still chilled from Friday night at first pitch Saturday. The base temperature actually was cooler Saturday, but Friday night's wind dropped the late game temperature from the 50s to much lower.
(One swimmer from a cold weather climate told me she left Friday's game in the fourth inning. Too cold.)
Anyway, I came ready for Saturday. FIU? Nyet. Not the women's basketball team (79-56), not the men's basketball team (75-42...what?), not the baseball team, which went face down 9-2 and never challenged.
Head coach Turtle Thomas called it a game you "flush and move on." He criticized freshman pitcher Garrett Cave for falling too far behind in counts, the defense for committing seven errors, the batters for being too passive at the plate. On this last count, the best example came during garbage time, the eighth inning. Three consecutive hitters, with men on first and second, looked at strike three.
At least the softball team split, losing to Memphis 2-0 before coming from behind to mercy rule LIU 12-4 in the FIU Invitational. Freshman shortstop Ashley Balans from Plantation American Heritage made her first college home run a grand slam. Gabriella Spallone doubled in two runs. Stephanie Texeira went two for three. FIU entered the fourth inning down 4-3 and left it up 10-4.
Two Whoppers -- no tomato, no mayo, definitely no cheese -- a cup of tea and a few The Big Bang Theory episodes later, I can sit down to say about the FIU baseball season opener...well, that's one time performance matched anticipation, huh?
FIU's Williams Durruthy walked into the dream situation for a kid playing by himself in a yard or sandlot -- charged with holding the gates of a one-run lead with the bases loaded and one out. Durruthy lived the dream. He got Andrew Lee swinging and Benito Santiago (yes, son of Benito Santiago) looking. FIU wins 4-3.
OK, nine errors says sloppier than seconds (of Manwich). One of those boo-boos, Tennessee's Steven Kane firing a pickoff move farther from first base than he ever was from the plate, birthed the winning run by allowing Jack Schaaf to score from third. Somehow, omnipresence of maladroit play failed to create an aura that causes one to call up the phrase "comedy of errors."
Lots of quick hits that didn't make my game story, a piece banged out quickly in my car after the game ran up against deadline and I'm not going into the press box situation.
FIU pitcher Danny Dopico faced seven batters and struck out six, including four in a row to end the eighth inning. Yes, four strikeouts in one inning. That came after he struck out the last two batters in the seventh inning after coming in with the bases loaded, one out and game tied 3-3. In the eighth, Jeff Moberg got hit by a pitch to start the eigth. Dopico icily mowed down David Houser, A.J. Simcox and Chris Hall. After catcher JC Escarra dropped the third strike to Chris Hall, Hall zipped down to first as if to get there not just before Escarra found the baseball, but before the baseball gods changed their mind. He didn't need to rush. Dopico struck out Derek Lance to keep FIU up 4-3 going into the ninth.
Tennessee shortstop A.J. Simcox dropped a third inning blooper from FIU's Brandon Cody that should've been a double play ball. Simcox spent the rest of the night atoning by taking away the left side of the infield past the pitcher's mound from FIU. Two of his diving stops flatly robbed FIU of hits with runners on base.
Tennessee's Christin Stewart had a Frank Robinson night -- hit by a pitch twice, tripled in Tennessee's first run. Actually, Stewart doubled to right and Brandon Cody launched an ICBM that might've nailed Stewart at third had it not nailed umpire Arthur Thigpen in the back shortly before arrival.
When it comes to umpire's bad calls affecting an inning, I'm usually of the "hard to screw a man who doesn't put himself in position to be screwed" school.
FIU went into the game with open minds on the Friday night starter and closer positions. Cody Crouse's audition for the former should get him more than a call back -- five innings, scattering six hits, one earned run, a walk and six strikeouts. On the other hand, Robby Kalaf's first audition for the latter...NEXT. Protecting a one-run lead in the ninth, coaches want pitching versions of Miles Davis that sooth and relax. Kalaf went Coltrane, injecting tension by hitting the leadoff guy and later throwing a wild pitch that moved two runners into scoring position. That set up Durruthy's Batman moment, which jacked up the entertainment value. Coaches prefer boring at that moment.
Crouse's second run never should've scored, by the way. Freshman Andres Nunez pitched wonderfully except for a spaz moment on his third batter. After hustling forward to field a bunt on the fly, Nunez turned to third to double the helpless runner. No need to rush. Nunez rushed. And couldn't have missed third base by more without aiming for first base, igniting enough anguished Spanish exclamations to fill the public forum part of a Hialeah city council meeting. Instead of a double play and out of the inning down 1-0, FIU trailed 2-0.
Nunez flat got rooked on a third strike call in the top of the seventh with the bases loaded, one out and FIU up 3-2. Whatever strike zone interpretation plate umpire Josh Miller used -- there were times last night Miller's strike zone seemed to start west of the middle of the plate and go about three feet toward the FIU dugout -- failed any decent eye test. Tennessee's Nick Senzel should've been walking back to the dugout, feeling some shame. Instead, a few pitches later, Senzel was promenading to first base with a walk that brought in the tying run.
Then again, the whole sequence doesn't happen if shortstop Julius Gaines doesn't flub what should've been an inning-ending double play ball two batters earlier. Hard smack but that's a play you need to believe your senior shortstop will make.
Back at it tonight with FIU sending freshman righty Garrett Cave against Tennessee junior lefthander Drake Owenby.
Same temps tonight so expect around 70 at first pitch, dipping to mid-50s by game's end. Last night, a good chunk of the crowd stood at the seventh inning stretch and stretched all the way to the exits and heated cars. Hope the concession stand has hot chocolate so The Herald's chocolate can buy that along with my colada.
The weekend and the FIU Invitational starts here at 4:30 Friday...
Then continues there at 7 p.m. for those wishing to see a proper thrashing of Purdue. While that would be Friday night pizza to my personal soul, my professional body will be a few hundred yards south of there...
It's possible FIU's baseball bunch could be a better team than last year's, yet come out of the first two weeks with a losing record -- three games against Tennessee, one against Georgia Tech and Coastal Carolina each. All ranked or getting votes for being ranked. North Carolina State left 2014 with a winning overall record, 32-23, if only 13-17 in the ACC.
The Panthers believe they've got talent. But they don't know really what they've got.
"It's going to tell us a lot," senior third baseman Josh Anderson said of the first few weeks. "We're not sure what our starting lineup is going to be in the outfield because there's injuries. But we're going to see how we play together as a team because we lost a lot of key parts. We've put together a good pitching staff. We have some freshmen in the lineup, too, that haven't really seen D-1 baseball yet. But, it's usually good because it sharpens their awareness."
What would count as a successful season?
"Last year, we finished 36-20, which would be a respectable season in some people's eyes," Anderson replied. "But for me and for our coaching staff and for other seniors on the team like Julius (Gaines), we underachieved as a team. This year, a successful season would be winning the Conference tournament, making a regional and going to the College World Series. We have the team to do it. If we can stick together as a team and finish this year -- last year, we kind of crumbled in the last 10 games -- if we can finish without injury, we have the squad to do it."
A message board poster, in arguing that FIU Alumni Association President Frank Pena harbors a personal grudge with athletic director Pete Garcia, used a screen grab of a Facebook post picturing Pena, former Executive Director of Alumni Affairs/current Alumni Association Vice President Eddie Hondal and Pena's baby daughter. The message board poster redacted the kid's face, but still....
Seems like a line was crossed. Nobody should want discourse about a business or extracurricular activity to descend into posting photos of or taking shots at children, spouses, ex-spouses, that night's date, relatives or others unrelated to the point being discussed.
As we all know, three is a magic number. But it's two that's the operational number for FIU baseball in the preseason Conference USA coaches' rankings and all-conference team.
Two Panthers, sophomore pitcher Chris Mourelle and senior infielder Josh Anderson, made the preseason all-conference team. And FIU sits No. 2 in the preseason team rankings behind defending conference champion Rice, a unanimous pick to repeat.
Rice swept the preseason Player of the Year (senior catcher John Clay) and Pitcher of the Year (junior lefty Blake Fox) awards.
FIU opens the season Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. with the first of a three-game weekend series against Tennessee.
Needing an FCS punching bag to fill out the 2015 home schedule, FIU will bring in North Carolina-Central, which went 7-5 last year, 6-2 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, 0-1 vs. FBS (52-7 loss to East Carolina) and 0-1 vs. transitional FBS (40-28 loss to Charlotte).
NC-Central will be the only non-conference home game, a stark contrast to the four non-conference home games that opened the 2014 season. The four Conference USA home games will be decided once the league finishes the realignment caused by Alabama-Birmingham football's demise.
FIU will move its Saturday games back to 6 p.m. from 4 p.m. Smart move. It gives families time to finish their Saturday activities and errands and cuts the roasting time in the stands on sunny days.
Men's basketball, vs. Marshall, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Men's basketball, vs. Western Kentucky, Saturday 6 p.m.
A Camp Mitch source says The Miguel Cabrera Foundation -- yes, the foundation of the future Triple Crown winner the Marlins traded away back in their more penurious days -- will sponsor the 2015 Diamond Dinner fund-raiser for the baseball and softball programs. Cabrera himself tentatively is scheduled to attend.
The Diamond Dinner, at the Graham Center Ballroom, Feb. 7, 7 p.m., will include Brooks Robinson as the this year's keynote speaker.
The athletic department's letting everyone know about their sponsorship deals these days. The latest is JuiceBlendz, a 10-year deal worth $345,000 according to the school (that's $34,500 per year, for those of you bad at moving decimal points).
Now, before you think that's straight cash, homey, it's signs online, at FIU Stadium, at Still Unsponsored FIU Arena; sample table space at some events; and in-game promotions.
Which reminds me, the $2.6 million five-year Adidas deal...
That breaks down to $520,000 per year. Talking with some folks who've lived with these numbers at the mid-major level, Adidas will devote about $155,000 per year to just the football team. And the FIU Stadium suite costs about $40,000.
So that's $195,000 right there, or about 37.5 percent of the yearly deal, leaving $325,000. There's also signs around Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium, Lime Court at Originally Sunblazer Arena and FIU Baseball Stadium as well as online advertising. Not exactly sure what that's worth, but after you subtract that, you get what's left over yearly for the other 17 sports.
Even with nine full time assistant coaches and some graduate assistants, even with a full reporting staff devoted only to chronicling football recruiting in a region where talent runs thicker than a Snickers, guys can get missed. Coaches tend to follow the best teams. Recruiting trackers tend to follow the coaches and the best teams.
That's how Edison safety Robert Knowles came into Thursday morning with no rating on any of the recruiting sites. Soon after 247Sports.com announced Knowles verbal commitment to FIU -- an actual BREAKING story as opposed to the BREAKING one that "announced" Central's Fermin Silva committed to FIU long after that had been reported -- a rating of three stars went up on the site. One of the sites ratings czars got around to looking at Knowles highlights.
I asked one of our guys about him. What I got back was that he hasn't seen Edison in two years because they don't play in many big games, but heard good things about Knowles.
If FIU gets Central's Anthony Jones, I wonder if they'd give him his first looks at wide receiver or running back. Jones starred at running back this year, but his recruiting position was wide receiver when Central stampeded people with Joe Yearby and one of Jones' cousins, Dalvin Cook.
For what it's worth, despite using different ways of ranking recruiting classes, the three sites I quote often all have FIU around the same place. Rivals.com has FIU fifth in Conference USA and 247Sports.com has FIU sixth. Scout.com has FIU eighth but does aggregate points total and is missing several verbal commits. All three sites rank FAU as C-USA's No. 1 2015 recruiting class based on commitments.
Kendall Rogers, now of D1baseball.com, reports that redshirt freshman lefthanded pitcher Chris Pelaez will transfer from LSU to FIU. Pelaez graduated from Florida Christian High.