With FIU's baseball season on the line Thursday, ace junior Mike Franco pitched. Aramis Garcia hit. Alas, Garcia's two two-baggers, bringing in two runs, couldn't overcome another two -- the three times Old Dominion turned two, leading to FIU's 3-2 loss and elimination from the Conference USA tournament.
Franco went three and a third, gave up four hits, no runs, struck out five and walked two. Fifth-year senior Albert Cardenas took the ball and gave up three runs in the fifth, two on a double by freshman Joseph Guaranga.
You can't fault Aramis Garcia's follow-through. Preseason Conference USA Co-Player of the Year to Conference USA Player of the Year for FIU's junior catcher/first baseman despite missing 12 games iwth a right oblique injury. Garcia led C-USA in slugging percentage (.588), was second in batting average (.355) and homers (seven) and third in on-base percentage (.428).
Pitcher Mike Franco and his conference-low 1.13 earned run average joined Garcia as First Team All-C-USA selections. Pitcher Chris Mourelle, 9-2 with a 1.70 ERA, got named Second Team All-C-USA and C-C-USA All-Freshman and C-USA Freshman of the Year.
I asked Turtle Thomas the difference between the Sun Belt and Conference USA. Thomas said he thought the pitching depth was better in the latter. Nobody's got a top three starter you can assume you'll knock around. He also said he thought the Sun Belt was better than C-USA for the 2013 season when The Belt sent three teams and conference tournament winner FAU to the NCAA tournament.
A few things before I scratch out 15 inches for Wednesday's paper on FIU baseball headed for the Conference USA tournament...
Give it up to junior catcher/first baseman Aramis Garcia and senior closer Mike Gomez, members of the Conference USA's Baseball All-Academic Team. No other school put more than one player on the team. Both are sports and fitness majors. Gomez has a 3.79 grade point average and Garcia has a 3.78.
FIU plans to have Garcia behind the plate Wednesday against Rice. He missed 12 games with a right oblique injury and returned to play first base at the end of the season-closing series at Tulane.
At the other end of the battery, FIU plans to throw freshman Chris Mourelle at Rice, according to Turtle Thomas. They didn't throw Mourelle last week against Tulane once the staff felt the chance for an at-large NCAA bid was gone and don't want to throw ace Mike Franco twice on short rest in a conference tournament they now need to win to make the NCAA tournament.
Also, Rice saw Mourelle only for three innings after Robby Kalaf took a shot off his right hand in the first inning in the third game of Rice's sweep earlier this year. Mourelle faced 16 batters, gave up five hits and only one run (it was earned).
FIU fifth-year senior Donald Senat made the 64-player spring watch list for the Dave Rimington Award, given annually to the best center in college football.
Dave Rimington was the best center of his era, a dominating player on Nebraska's 1981 and 1982 teams, seasons that saw him become the first two-time winner of the Outland Trophy as the nation's outstanding interior lineman. Rimington didn't make All-Decade teams. He made All-Century teams. Though he was part of the 1983 NFL Draft's first round, generally considered the greatest first round ever, his seven-season NFL career never quite lived up to the hype. That hype existed for a center should tell you something by itself.
Once FIU clinched its spot in the Conference USA Baseball Tournament with a win Thursday at Tulane, the last two games of the season still mattered. The Former Sunblazers lost Friday and Saturday on walk-off plays, dropping them to a No. 8 seed and a fourth shot at No. 1 seed Rice, Wednesday at 1:30 Eastern at host Southern Mississippi.
That's the same Rice that swept FIU at Camp Mitch -- 3-2, 10-2, 11-7 -- the only team to do that to the Panthers this season.
The good news is A) the odds say it's hard to beat a good team four times and if you say it'll really only be twice because both teams should throw their aces then you can say B) FIU played Rice on even terms in Ace vs. Ace.
FIU's Mike Franco went 7 1/3, gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits, walked three and struck out seven. Rice's Zech Lemond went eight innings, gave up two runs (both earned) on eight hits, walked two and struck out five. FIU took a 2-0 lead after four innings, gave up the tying run in the eighth and lost 3-2 in 13 innings.
FIU's 9-1 spanking of Tulane Thursday night gave the Panthers 16 wins, thus guaranteeing ninth-in-Conference-USA FAU can't catch the Former Sunblazers in the standings no matter what FAU does this weekend against UAB. So, FIU's clinched a spot in the Conference USA tournament next week at Southern Mississippi.
TRACK & FIELD
The Conference USA Track & Field Championships began Thursday at Rice with Day 1 of the decathlon and heptathlon. Sophomore Chris Sullivan sits in third with 3,651 points. Charlotte sophomore K'vonte Scott reached 3,877 points to take a 153-point lead on East Carolina's Alexander Mobley-Hollie, who passed Sullivan for second during the last event, the 400 meters.
On the dirt diamond, freshman Stephanie Texeira made the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's All-South First Team as the first baseman. Baseball's Aramis Garcia is one of the 15 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation's best catcher (naturally).
Barring the kind of calamity that usually involves a Gortex coat and a wine store, Garcia and his teammates will be in the Conference USA tournament at Southern Mississippi next week. So will the radio crews of every other school in the eight-team tournament, according to the schools involved.
FIU will not bring Pete Pelegrin, who does the play-by-play on FIU radio and PantherVision.
Started looking over some things, figuring up some numbers, then got to playing with Windows Movie Maker after watching the Heat then Kings-Ducks and, well...
FIU pitcher Mike Franco has been named to the watch list for the Gregg Olson Award, which recognizes college baseball's breakout player of the year. Olson, an Auburn pitcher, rebounded from a mediocre first season to gain All-American status.
Word around Camp Mitch is it was just a knot in the shoulder that took FIU ace Mike Franco out of Friday's start against Middle Tennessee State. Franco should be properly unknotted going forward and be available for this weekened's season closing series at Tulane as well as the Conference USA tournament.
FIU is No. 63 in RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com, and has a 1-5 record against teams in the RPI top 50.
FIU could make some needed non-student fee cash if the stadium gets the Ghana vs. South Korea pre-World Cup friendly that'll be in town June 9. Sun Life Stadium has a pair of England friendlies, June 4 vs. Ecuador and June 7 vs. Honduras, and has room for another on the calendar. But South Korea might be training at FIU before heading to Brazil for the World Cup.
Schedule and being one-and-done in the Conference USA tournament clearly hurt FIU softball, which will be none-and-home for the NCAA tournament. Conference USA regular season and tournament champion Tulsa got the conference's automatic bid with Alabama-Birmingham getting the at-large bid.
No. 2 seed UAB got upset in the first round of the conference tournament, by Marshall, just as East Carolina upset No. 3 FIU. The Blazers were 31-25, 15-8 in conference compared to 33-20 and 15-9 for FIU. But UAB also took two of three from FIU head-to-head, played the second toughest non-conference schedule in the nation and had four wins against teams in the top 35 of RPI. In fact, UAB got sent to the regional in Athens, Georgia, home of No. 4 seed Georgia, which UAB smoked 8-0 this season.
Meanwhile, baseball's win Sunday not only prevented a Middle Tennessee State sweep but nearly clinched a spot in the conference tournament for FIU. Only FAU sweeping UAB (won't happen) while FIU gets swept by anemic Tulane (definitely won't happen) could prevent FIU from making the tournament.
FIU hopes all is well with Mike Franco by that time.
The Golden Spike's given out to the top amateur baseball player in the country. FIU junior pitcher Mike Franco sits fourth in the nation with a 0.96 ERA and leads the staff with the second lowest team ERA in the nation, 2.02.
Put them together and you get Franco as one of the 30 players on the Golden Spike watch list.
Junior Shelby Graves garnered the last Conference USA Pitcher of the Week award after throwing a no-hitter against Southern Miss and allowed no runs in Sunday's save. She finishes the regular season with a 15-7 record, 3.37 ERA, 100 strikeouts and 32 walks in 135 innings pitched.
Mike Franco somehow didn't win C-USA's baseball Pitcher of the Week. Reid Love from East Carolina beat North Carolina, so he got the honor. Still, Franco's 0.96 ERA ranks fourth in the nation and FIU stayed atop the team ERA charts at 1.94.
The long and the short of it: 6-9 incoming freshman Larry Dennis from Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas and 5-10 junior college transfer Tayshawn Desir, a third-team NJCAA All-America selection for Monroe Community College. Dennis was unrated by 247sports.com and Scout.com, but got two stars from ESPN.com.
You could say both baseball and softball pulled out the brooms to sweep their competition, East Carolina and Southern Mississippi, respectively, this weekend. In the case of softball, it's more like they pulled out the brooms, wet them and went all Mr. Jinks on Southern Miss in a crushing sweep that pushed FIU into the Conference USA tournament's No. 3 seed.
Combined score of 32-4; a no-hit shutout by Shelby Graves, who combined with Corinne Jenkins for another shutout in Sunday's 5-0 win that ended with a triple play; more hits (40) than Stevie Wonder in the 1970s...that's beating a mouse with a wet broom.
FIU (33-19, 15-9) opens the tournament, hosted by FAU, Thursday with a game against East Carolina at 1:30. Earlier this season on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium, FIU edged the Pirates 11-9 and 2-0 before taking a 12-2 spanking in the final game. If seeding and regular season results hold and FIU advances, the Panthers get the winner of No. 2 Alabama-Birmingham vs. No. 7 Marshall, against whom FIU was a combined 1-5 this season -- losing the first two, winning one at UAB and getting swept at Marshall.
Baseball's sweep, made possible by Tyler Hibbert's two-RBI single and 2-1 win, pushed the Former Sunblazers all the way up to a tie for fourth in the conference with Texas-San Antonio at 14-10 in the conference. No. 9 FAU got to 12-15 this weekend playing Old Dominion. So, FIU's margin for error can get downright porcine with a strong Mother's Day Weekend against Middle Tennessee State.
Mike Gomez put the final snuff on East Carolina in the ninth inning to get his 24th career save, setting an FIU record, in a 6-4 Panthers victory Saturday. FIU's 13-10 in Conference USA play now, even in fifth with East Carolina.
While the Former Sunblazers haven't clinched a spot in the Conference USA tournament yet, the wins Friday and Saturday put give them more of a buffer as far as teams in the standings between FIU and ninth place.
FIU pitcher Mike Franco again proved better on Friday night than pizza.
The Panthers gave Franco cushion against East Carolina, starting with a Brian Portelli home run, an RBI triple by Tyler Hibbert and RBI doubles by Josh Anderson and Julius Gaines. Franco just gave the Pirates problems, scattering six hits, striking out seven and walking none in a complete game 7-1 win. FIU's now 12-10 in the conference and up to sixth and only one game behind East Carolina.
Tampa Bowman Prep's Craig Bowman, a 6-3 point guard, announced his commitment to FIU the modern way, via Twitter. He'll be part of the 2014 recruiting class.
Bowman averaged 15.3 points per game, 4.1 assists per game and 2.9 steals per game as a senior and 10.0, 3.3 and 2.9, respectively, as a junior.
Friday morning at 10 a.m., FIU's sand volleyball team faces Hawaii in the first round of the AVCA Collegiate Sand Championships. Should FIU win, the Panthers get No. 1 seed Southern Cal at 1 p.m. An FIU loss means they wait until 5 p.m., when they get the loser of No. 2 Pepperdine vs. the Florida State-Stetson winner.
Of the aforementioned schools, FIU faced only Florida State this year, losing 4-1.
A good weekend against East Carolina, tied for third in Conference USA with a 13-8 conference record, will go a long way toward FIU clinching a spot in the conference tournament.
With 10 games remaining, FIU has an 11-10 conference record, tied for seventh with Middle Tennessee State. Ninth place FAU sits at 10-14. Realistically, FIU's safe. FAU still has three games of flailling at that Alabama-Birmingham staff and Friday begins three games against Old Dominion's vacuum cleaner infield. So In three games with East Carolina; three games against Middle; and three games against weak Tulane, FIU should be ablde to come up with enough wins to outdistance FAU no matter what happens when they play May 13 at FAU.
As predicted on this blog yesterday, Conference USA named FIU freshman Stephanie Texeira its Player of the Week for the second time this season. Texeira went four for five with four walks, five RBI, two home runs, a 2.000 slugging percentage (that's Babe Ruth-on-a-1980s-video-game numbers) and a .900 on-base percentage.
Also as predicted on Sunday night's blog post, FIU retook the national lead in team ERA, which is now down to 1.93 for the season. Mike Franco ranks sixth with a 0.95 ERA and freshman Cody Crouse is 25th with a 1.35 ERA.
Two years ago, when FIU executive director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia mentioned FIU adding a sand volleyball team, he crested on "giddy." His reasoning: the sport's a natural for a school in a town with popular beaches and FIU could be a national power quickly because the sand Panthers wouldn't be scrambling to make up everybody else's 10 or 100-year head start.
Such was the theory, so has it been danced. FIU's seeded No. 5 going into the American Volleyball Coaches Association national championship for sand volleyball, which is still what the NCAA classifies as an "emerging sport." CBS Sports Netowrk will show a delayed broadcast in late May.
Should FIU as a team or one of the pairings come back with the biggest trophy, you can predict the trophy-snuggling photos: Garcia, several other athletic department administrators, FIU President Mark Rosenberg, all getting around the team and the trophy with the enthusiasm of taking selfies with a new baby.
Why, then, doesn't the department put enough bucks behind the sand volleyball and volleyball programs so that it doesn't have to do the gofundme.com thing? It's not embarrassing for the programs -- they're doing what they have to do. That's what coaches and ahtletes do. It reflects on the school and the athletic department that those programs have to do the electronic version of pleading car to car at 107th Avenue and 8th Street. FIU's doing the reverse Strom Thurmond -- instead of giving child support, but no name or claim to a daughter, FIU's giving name and is happy to claim, but are almost deadbeat dads.
Schools consider Division I athletics marketing. It's about getting the school name and positive impressions of the university out there. It works, too. Applications went up when the football team went to bowl games. But these words go back to what I wrote in the fall and the winter -- details in operation and presentation form an initial impression of your school to those who haven't been around it daily. Failure there presents a negative impression.
This is too basic to be a detail. Those who want to show love after the team wins should show love beforehand by showing the money.
FIU's battering of North Texas this weekend -- three-game sweep, outscoring the Mean (secondary definition of "Mean") Green 24-3, bum rushing North Texas in five innings Sunday -- clinched a spot in the Conference USA tournament for FIU (30-19, 12-9). The top eight teams in conference record make the tournament.
If freshman Stephane Texeira doesn't get her second conference player of the week award, the entire Conference USA office needs to 12-step off. Texeira went four of five with two home runs in the series, walked four times, had an on-base percentage of .900 and a slugging percentage of 2.000. One of Texeira's home runs got sandwiched by homers from freshman Gabby Spallone and junior Krystal Garcia, the first home run natural hat trick in FIU softball history.
Pitchers Corinne Jenkins, Shelby Graves and Mariah Dawson allowed all of one earned run in the three games.
The pitching staff over at the baseball field allowed only three earned runs in its four-game sweep of Saint Peter's. With the staff ERA at 1.93, FIU might move back into the top spot in the nation. The Former Sunblazers entered the weekend fourth nationally in ERA as a staff.
As for conference tournament status, nobody's clinched anything yet. FIU sits tied for seventh with Middle Tennessee State, both at 11-10. FAU, 10-14, is ninth and Marshall, 8-14, is 10th. FIU's got three games left at East Carolina, three with Middle at home and three at Tulane. There's also another one-game battle of vowels with FAU.
Apparently, Typepad, which hosts our blogs, suffered malfunctions Easter Sunday and Why Are They Off School? Monday. That's the reason for all the funkiness in the comments -- and no posts -- since Saturday.
So, let's take care of a few things...
FIU heads for the Big Ten's most beautiful campus, Bloomington, Ind., to play Indiana University on Sept. 12, 2015 and hosts the school with the Big Ten's leanest football tradition Sept. 3, 2016. IU bought its way out of a game with the University of South Florida before going after games with FIU. Clearly, the thought in Bloomington is Willie Taggart can get things turned around at USF before Ron Turner can do it down here.
FIU goes to the University of Massachusetts on Oct. 3, 2015 then hosts UMass Sept. 15, 2018. FIU's 2015 non-conference schedule includes the aforementioned road games and a trip to Central Florida.
FIU's most recent team conference champions, last year's Sun Belt queens, sit in fourth, 14 shots back of leader Tulane after the first day of the Conference USA championship at the Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
While FIU's top two, freshman Camila Serrano and sophomore Sophie Godley, were 1-under 71, tied for fourth, and even par 72, tied for sixth, respectively, the rest of FIU's roster were the bananas in the tailpipe: sophomores Carla Jane and Meghan MacLaren, 4-over 76, tied for 29th; and freshman Coralia Arias, 9-over 81, tied for 52nd.
FIU ranks No. 6 in the most recent coaches poll, tied with St. Mary's, but the sand women will be seeded No. 5 in the national tournament, the American Volleyball Coaches Association announced Monday. The tournament runs May 2-4 in Gulf Shores, just like golf.
I asked Turtle Thomas if freshman pitcher Chris Mourelle's dropoff in performance in his last two starts -- two runs in six starts, nine runs in his last two -- could be a sign of a pitcher getting tired. Thomas said it was possible, but Mourelle actually had better stuff in Sunday's loss to FAU than the previous week against Louisiana Tech.
Mourelle pitched 61 innings last year at Southwest High. He's at 54 1/3 innings this year.
Tough Saturday afternoon for the FIU baseball team.
Actually, it started Friday night. After pitcher Mike Franco dropped a Friday night complete game zero on FAU, letting only one runner reach third base, he gets dissed by the FIU Sports website. Instead of using a new photo of Franco or a stock photo of Franco from some past game, the site used a posed photo of sports and entertainment director Pete Garcia with Rosenberg's Rowdies, the noisy, devoted group of FIU students.
An action shot of Garcia joining The Rowdies, as President Mark Rosenberg did during the last men's basketball home game, would've been excellent. Or, it would've been if you didn't have a pitcher throwing a complete game shutout to extend your team single-season conference record in shutouts to 12.
Anyway, then came the wacky game. A pickoff. Catcher interference. Two balks. Two! You can watch baseball until seams go across your eyeballs without seeing two balks. (former Major League Umpire, the late Ron Luciano, in one of his books written with David Fisher, wrote that he never called a balk because he didn't understand the rule).
Only seven of FAU's 13 runs counted as earned and the Owls had only one more hit than FIU. But they also had one less error, one less wild pitch, one less walk and three less hit batters.
A regular poster, Chiapanther, asked me on Twitter why FIU didn't go to closer Mike Gomez with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth with the score still tied 3-3. I wondered the same thing.
"Mike Gomez does a lot better when he's ahead in the game," FIU coach Turtle Thomas said. "It wasn't the time to do that."
Everybody's back on the field at 1 p.m. Sunday. I'll be back at The Table then and back here tomorrow night.
Freshman Chris Mourelle's complete game 1-0 shutout of Old Dominion Sunday, during which he allowed five hits, walked none and struck out five, earned him Conference USA Pitcher of the Week honors. The shutout was Mourelle's second of the season and he ranks sixth in the nation with a 0.59 ERA.
FIU's team earned run average, 1.63, leads the nation. Tied for No. 2 at 1.79 are South Carolina and Houston (University of, not the Astros, although the college might have a better staff).
Mourelle's gem was one of two by FIU pitchers Sunday. Sophomore Corinne Jenkins whirled a three-hitter at FAU Sunday in the Panthers 3-1 win that gave them the weekend series.
Oh, and by the way, FIU posted the job opening for the last open spot in the media relations department referred to a few posts ago. Salary of $37,000 to $43,000 per year.