February 17, 2014

Diamond Stud-ded (and Stud-ette-d) Weekend

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."

February 12, 2014

Coley and CLASS; Snow day; 2015 Diamond Dinner

Another pile of points from senior guard Jerica Coley, 29 of them, couldn't lead FIU to an upset of Middle Tennessee State Wednesday night at The Branch. But Coley did get two pieces of individual good news lately: she's one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award (http://www.seniorCLASSaward.com) and one of the 30 finalists for the Naismith Women's Player of the Year Award.

The former award takes into account Coley's excellence in the classroom as well as on the court and fans can go to the website to vote for their favorite student-athlete. 

TENNIS

The women's tennis match against Winthrop got snowed out. They can't clear off the courts and play? Nobody's got a shovel up there? Sheesh...

BASEBALL & SOFTBALL

Arrangements for the 2015 Diamond Dinner, Feb. 7, 2015, already are underway. And FIU's in talks with another excellent keynote speaker. I'm not sure he's a better speaker than this year's Jim Kaat, current broadcaster and former longtime major league pitcher, but he's one of the biggest names in baseball from the 1960s and 1970s.

February 07, 2014

Joining The 700 Club; new softball stadium's first game

Between planes connecting FIU's women's basketball team from San Antonio to El Paso isn't an ideal time for serious reflection. That's where I caught Cindy Russo Thursday afternoon after her 700th career coaching victory, she and her team were in Houston with UTEP in the future (Saturday) and the milestone win against Texas-San Antonio in the past (Wednesday).

"It's an honor to reach it," Russo said. "It took a lot of time and a lot of good people."

As for the most memorable of those 700 wins, Russo pointed to the 81-76 1995 first round NCAA win against she and longtime assistant Inge Nissen's alma mater, Old Dominion. Despite that connection, I got the feeling the top placement owes more to the game being the first of FIU's two NCAA tournament wins.

"And, of course, it's always nice to beat UM," she laughed.

Russo couldn't remember win No. 1.

"It' was too long time ago," she laughed. 

It was 42-41 against Brevard Community College, Jan. 7, 1978. Russo recalls FIU's campus encompassed seven buildings. The team played at Miami Christian High School. They practiced in a former airplane hangar they called "The Tin Gym" now used for storage.

"That first year was memorable," Russo said. "I had a lot of volleyball palyers playing after their season and a lot of softball players playing before their season. But they were a gutty group and coachable."

In the Florida AIAW tournament, FIU won two, then lost two, finishing second to Bethune-Cookman. An eligibility issue, however, knocked Cookman out of the AIAW tournament and sent FIU to the Southeast Regional at the College of Charleston. The Sunblazers (gosh, how much cooler a name is that?) lost to Tampa to end their season 8-14.

Appropriate that the building of wins from eight to 700 by the longest serving FIU coach in any sport in some ways parallels the building of FIU's current campus.

SOFTBALL

Speaking of construction, the new softball facility debuts today at 4 p.m. when FIU plays Maryland in the Felsberg Memorial. Tomorrow night is the major fund-raiser for the softball and baseball programs, the Diamond Dinner in the Graham Center Ballroom at Camp Mitch. Reception is at 6 p.m with the dinner starting at 7 p.m.

Former major league pitcher Jim Kaat will be the keynote speaker.

January 30, 2014

Coffee, Coley & TV

 The biggest weeps over senior guard Jerica Coley graduating FIU might not be heard in the women's basketball offices, but the marketing and media relations offices. They'll be crying like it's the end of Love Story. For those arms of FIU media, Coley's the gift that never stops giving, the cornucopia of FIU goodness.

This week, it's being named a Capital One Academic All-District athlete by College Sports Information Directors of America. This district covers colleges in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Coley carries a 3.41 GPA and majors in dietetics and nutrition.

Coley and the entire women's basketball team will be signing autographs Saturday after FIU faces FAU at 6 p.m. on National Girls and Women in Sports Day. Female FIU employees with their FIU card get in free. Girls under 12 receive a free t-shirt.

TELEVISION

The Apr. 5 FIU vs. FAU softball game will be televised on Fox Sports Network as will the May 3 FIU at East Carolina baseball game. Conference USA announced its spring television schedule today.

 

 

 

January 29, 2014

Garcia Preseason C-USA Player of the Year, Rios All-Conference

Conference USA's coaches share a respect for junior catcher Aramis Garcia, who led FIU in hits (72) and home runs (11) last year while batting .321 with 51 RBI. Garcia also nabbed more attempted stealers than ADT.

For this, coaches voted Garcia Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year, along with East Carolina utility player Drew Reynolds. Sophomore infielder Edwin Rios also made the preseason all-conference team.

FIU was picked sixth in the conference. Rice, either the regular season or conference tournament champion eight consecutive seasons, was unsurprisingly voted the favorite.

January 28, 2014

Academic "attaboys" for 4 athletes

The National Consortium of Academics and Sports put four FIU athletes among the 40 nationwide that received 2013 Academic Momentum Awards.

Defensive end Denzell Perine, a criminal justice major; pitcher Mike Franco, also a criminal justice major; golfer Sophie Godley, a recreation and sports management major; and track thrower Alysha Lewis were each honored for academic improvement and having an impact through academics on classmates, teammates, advisors and professors.

January 08, 2014

2014 Baseball Schedule

The real opening of 2014 baseball season is the Diamond Dinner on Feb. 8 in the Graham Center Ballroom. Former longtime major league pitching good Jim Kaat will be the featured speaker. Also, 15 items will be auctioned off live, another 100 items will be in a silent auction. Tickets are $120 per person, $1,200 for a group of 10. For tickets, call Alyssa Meyer at 305-348-7297 or e-mail her at ameyer@fiu.edu and ask about the group discount. Really, ask about it because there doesn't appear to be one.

Now, for actual action, the baseball team opens up Valentine's Day at University Park with the first of a three-game series against Rutgers. I mean action on the field. As far as other action, your honey's love of baseball and FIU will determine that if you attend.

FIU's first 11 games will be at home against Rutgers, Stetson, Stony Brook, Florida Memorial and Dartmouth along with a Mar. 27 exhibition against the Marlins up at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. The first home Conference USA opponent will be always-tough Rice on Mar. 14. The FAU games are at Camp Mitch April 18-20 and a non-conference game in Boca May 13.

The Conference USA tournament will be May 21-25 in picturesque Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where there's a Waffle House a half-mile in either direction off the exit near the Southern Mississippi campus

September 05, 2013

We name names...and knees

I have in my hand a list numbering 57 card-carrying communists!...No, wait, that's not it...58 Commissioner's List honorees from FIU lauded by the Sun Belt Conference for having at least a 3.5 grade point average during the 2012-13 academic year.

Baseball: Nathan Burns, John Caballero, Charles Cormier, Julius Gaines, Aramis Garcia, Mike Gomez, Roche Woodard, Ty Sullivan.

Men's Basketball: Steven Miro, Manny Nunez.

Women's Basketball: Alexsandra Bodlovich, Marita Davydova, Katrina Epnere, Zsofia Labady, Carmen Miloglav.

Women's Golf: Shelby Coyle.

Women's Soccer: Shelby Bowden, Crystal McNamara, Ashleigh Shim, Sara Stewart.

Softball: Alexandra Cassals, Jennifer Gniadek, Corinne Jenkins, Marisa McGregor, Rachel Slowik.

Tennis: Giuletta Boha, Nina Djordjevic, Michelle Sabado.

Swimming & Diving: Sabrina Beaupre, Mary Boucher, Kelly Grace, Chelsie Kidd, Jennifer Lee, Dorothy Miller, Colleen Quinn, Marina Ribi, Courtney Vander Schaaf.

Men's Track & Field/Cross Country: Miguel Delgadillo, Ross Hope, Eli Monzon, Daniel Puentes, Orlando Rodriguez, Aubrey Smith.

Women's Track & Field/Cross Country: Maria Alea, Isabel Betancourt, Elenor Edwards, Daniela Espino, Jessica Gehrke, Lauren Gonzalez, Tiffanie Hernandez, Bianca Morrison, Antonia Simms, Desmika White, Lashae White.

Volleyball: Lucia Castro, Jessica Egan, Gloria Levorin, Kimberly Smith, Brittany Spencer.

FOOTBALL

Defensive end Denzell Perine, who had to be helped off the field during Saturday's loss to Maryland and returned to play a solid game until the final whistle, Tweeted that he had knee surgery but would still be able to play Friday against Central Florida. 

 

June 11, 2013

APR news, not-so-news (basketball postseason ban), a football departure

 I don't know what happened to this post. Somehow, inserting the Alice Cooper video eliminated the rest of the copy. I apologize.

In summary, the men's basketball team got the NCAA punishment expected for almost a year -- no postseason play in 2013-14, activity time limited to five days and 16 hours -- when the 2011-12 Academic Progress Rate came in at an abysmal 750. That pulled the four-year rate down to 858. The reasons behind the 833 for the 2010-11 school year, one of the factors in Isiah Thomas' firing, was discussed in an April 5 post on this blog. I'd heard stories of players willfully crashing their acadmics after Thomas' firing. Such a comically low APR score all but confirms that happened. Between that and transfers from the program post-firing, there's your 750.

The football team's single-season APR was 932 and four-year was 930. The leading programs on the four-year APR were tennis, 992, and swimming, 986. Women's basketball and golf both put up single-year APRs of 1000.

Football had the lowest four APR aside from basketball. Baseball had the lowest single season APR aside from basketball, 867.

ACADEMIC PROGRESS RATES

Baseball: multi-year, 945. 2011-12, 867

Men's basketball: multi-year, 858. 2011-12, 750.

Men's cross country: multi-year, 975. 2011-12, 938.

Football: multi-year, 930. 2011-12, 932.

Men's soccer: multi-year, 943. 2011-12, 975.

Men's indoor track: multi-year, 960. 2011-12, 970.

Men's outdoor track: multi-year, 952. 2011-12, 970.

Women's basketball: multi-year, 972. 2011-12, 1000.

Women's cross country: multi-year, 955. 2011-12, 980.

Women's golf: multi-year, 983. 2011-12, 1000.

Women's soccer: multi-year, 954. 2011-12, 958

Softball: multi-year, 967. 2011-12, 935.

Swimming: multi-year, 986. 2011-12, 991.

Tennis: multi-year, 992. 2011-12, 968.

Women's indoor track: multi-year, 957. 2011-12, 928.

Women's outdoor track: multi-year, 960. 2011-12, 943.

Volleyball: multi-year, 973. 2011-12, 932.

 

FOOTBALL

Sources close to Camp Mitch say yet another director of football operations, Nick Mehlhaff, has resigned. That's four directors of football operations since January 2012, two in the last five months.

 

June 08, 2013

MLB drafts one from FIU

The Major League Baseball draft didn't tap the FIU roster until Saturday, when lefthanded pitcher Tyler Alexander got taken in the 27th round by Milwaukee.

In what probably will be his only season at FIU after time at Hillsborough Community College, Alexander went 4-6 with a 4.28 ERA and .255 opponent batting average in 15 starts. He struck out 101 batters and walked 62 in 90 1/3 innings. Alexander took over the No. 1 starter role after Mike Ellis' season-ending injury.

June 06, 2013

Wanted: New Pitching Coach

After two seasons, Drew French is out as FIU's pitching coach.

French came from Alabama after the 2011 season. FIU's 2012 staff put up a 4.34 ERA and allowed a .254 opponent batting average. In 2013, with ace Mike Ellis and top closer Mike Gomez taken out early by injuries, those numbers rose to 4.97 and .282, respectively as FIU went 25-30, the first losing season since 2008.

So, there's one job open on the baseball staff.

 

May 21, 2013

Coley, Garcia honored by Sun Belt

There really isn't much left to say about women's basketball star guard Jerica Coley that hasn't been said. Just watch her keep on keepin' on and pass the hardware.

Tuesday, the Sun Belt did so in naming two-time honorable mention All-America the Sun Belt's 2012-13 Female Student-Athlete of the Year.

Coley led the nation in scoring while also keeping up a 3.34 GPA as a dietetics and nutrition major. And also just being an all-around good person and teammate with one year left at FIU.

BASEBALL

Catcher Aramis Garcia made First Team All-Sun Belt, the only FIU player to make first or second team all-conference.

And, because I'm, technically, on vacation...

 

 

May 17, 2013

This time, it's personnel

While Western Kentucky's Bobby Petrino all but dropped a blizzard of scholarship offers from a helicopter over Southern Broward, FIU got to work putting in face time and offers around the state.

Tampa Alonso running back Ish Witter, 5-8, 190, has and FIU offer, but 10 others also including Louisville and Missouri.

 

FIU's also sniffing around quarterback Jacob Kaiser out of St. Joseph (Mo.) Central High, a three-star recruit (CORRECTION: Kaiser isn't rated by ESPN or Rivals. I'd had another player slotted in here I'd heard, erroneously, FIU was recruiting and he was a three-star guy.)

http://www.hudl.com/athlete/627664/highlights/25355390

Two-star defensive tackle Keiwan Jones from Dunnellon High got an offer from FIU.

 

BASKETBALL

Men's basketball coach Anthony Evans said "none that I know of" when I asked him Thursday if he saw any more players transferring out of the program. Guard Deric Hill's headed for Barry and Malik Smith's following former coach Richard Pitino to Minnesota.

I asked Evans if there was consideration given to offering Hill, a walk-on who was the Die Hard battery in FIU's defense, a scholarship. Evans said he was going to wait until grades came out at the end of summer school, but Hill asked for his release.

With two scholarships left for next season, Evans remains unsure whether to use them or holster them for 2014. He didn't mention the probable postseason ban, but it's an obvious element. Unless there's a player who gives you the shivers, you want him so badly, why not get past whatever treading water will be done next season before using all the aresenal at your command. 

"If I hold for 2014, I'll have a larger class and I can build a foundation fo what I want this program to be," Evans said.

BASEBALL

Aramis Garcia is one of the 15 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the "most deserving Division I catcher nominated by his school." Finalists will be announced June 4.

 

April 01, 2013

Welcome to Conference Sun Belt USA; Alexander Belt Pitcher of the Week; Swimming Scholars

Western Kentucky's leaving the Sun Belt for Conference USA in 2014, the school and C-USA officially announced today. So, that means FIU, FAU, North Texas, Middle Tennessee State and Western will make that move between July 2013 and July 2014.

My first thought was, "That's only one year away from Bobby Petrino." Petrino won't head up Western's football program for long, four years at the outside, more likely three. But the man can recruit and coach and his track record says he'll be a problem for the rest of his conference, whatever that conference is. That's the Sun Belt this year and Conference USA with FIU after that.

BASEBALL

Junior Tyler Alexander's four-hit, 10-strikeout 1-0 win against Arkansas State got him named Sun Belt Pitcher of the Week, the conference announced Monday afternoon.

SWIMMING & DIVING

FIU's 3.15 GPA from the fall got them recognized as a College Swimming Coaches Association of America Scholar All-America Team. The honor goes to teams that achieve a 3.0 team GPA for a semester. This is FIU's fifth consecutive semester above that mark.

February 24, 2013

FIU comes from 4 down to win 8-7

Oscar Aguirre's double down the right field line brought in Nathan Burns in the bottom of the eighth and Mike Gomez sent Manhattan down in the ninth to complete an 8-7 win over Manhattan and the second series sweep of the year.

FIU moves to 6-1. Manhattan is 0-3.

 

Ishmar, Pierre get points in the put; Wright up; baseball tied 7-7

Sophomore Raqurra Ishmar and freshman Miriam Pierre finished third and sixth, respectively, in the Sun Belt Conference Indoor Championships shot put. Ishmar's fifth put went 48 feet and a half inch. Pierre's last put sailed 44-3 1/2 inches.

Former FIU guard DeJuan Wright won the dunk contest at the Dutch League All-Star Game.

A Zach Sweety home run after Oscar Aguirre's single tied Sunday's game 7-7 in the seventh, FIU making the comeback from down 7-3 in the fourth.

Ghent, Smith get first points at track; baseball getting Rock-ed

Freshman Marcus Ghent flew 23 feet 2 3/4 inches on his second jump of the day, eventually good enough for fifth in the long jump at the Sun Belt Indoor Track Conference Championship. Senior Aubrey Smith finished third with a 23-5 1/2 jump.

Meanwhile, the baseball team's down 7-4 after five innings. Mike Franco went 46 pitches. After giving up a leadoff homer, Franco walked three in the first and saw three more runs cross when he walked in a run and a grounder off two gloves brought in two others. His off speed pitches kept missing, which put him in trouble. Homers by Kyle Murphy, Gulliver graduate Christian Santisteban and Joe Rock homered off Alex Seibold for Manhattan. T.J. Shantz homered for FIU.

February 23, 2013

Rippin' and runnin'

After losing five of their first six, the softball team's run off nine in a row after going two for two Saturday in dumping Mercer and Hartford (not the Whalers).

They could make it 10 in a row by the end of this afternoon when they get another chance to whack Mercer, 7-0 victims of pitchers Corinne Jenkins and Shelby Graves Saturday, at 1:30 Sunday in the championship game of the FIU Classic. Sophomore Krystal Garcia continued her five-game hitting streak Saturday, matching senior Brie Rojas for longest streak of the season. Senior Jessy Alfonso has gone eight of 26 with eight runs scores and four RBI over the nine games.

 

BASEBALL

Sunday's baseball series closer against Manhattan inspires two questions:

1. How will Mike Franco pitch in his second start? Franco, 10 months off Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow, showed a fastball with some turbo in his 45 pitches last Sunday against Stony Brook. Franco got through two and two-thirds innings and was one strike from working a full three when he got called off the mound.

Expect his pitch count to be around 50 this time.

2. Will Manhattan keep the Panthers out of double-digits? And, if not, will FIU score soon enough for the mercy rule to come into effect?

Considering what FIU's done to Manhattan's first two starters -- seven runs in 24 batters Friday, six runs in 10 batters Saturday -- Sunday's game could be longer than some of those Sunday baptist services I sat through in my youth. You never know, but I'm packing Pop Tarts. After scarfing my usual 14-16 pieces of bacon, four links of sausage and two biscuits from the David-prepared Sunday brunch.

The mercy rule usually gets employed only on Sundays, when a team's got to get out of town. Is somebody up by 10 after seven innings? Stop the fight. Friday still would've been a full game. Saturday would've been a TKO.

The baseball team's 5-1 start includes this funky fact -- the only starter to give up an earned run is Michael Ellis, theoretically the known quantity ace of the lineup. And Ellis got touched for four runs in each start.

There are two ways to look at this. If you're a sunny side up person, you say, "Once Ellis gets his stuff together, man, facing FIU's going to be like dealing with the 1970 Orioles because nobody's going to give up diddlysquat and the bats will just need to fart out a few runs each night."

If you're an Apocalyptic Baseball Annie, you say, "Uh, oh. These new guys might be dealing now, but how long can that hold up? And if the ace doesn't get it together..."

"Mike Ellis is our Friday night guy, but Mike is better than what he showed tonight," FIU coach Turtle Thomas said after Friday's 14-4 win against Manhattan."His velocity is good, everything was good, but when five out of six guys leading off innings get on base and he's behind too many hitters, threw too many pitches on the belt, those are fundamentals of the game that you've got to be able to do a good job on. Now, he competed his rear end off. Mike Ellis will always compete, give you his best effort. Mike's got to pitch more effectively to beat a lot of the teams we play during the year."

TRACK & FIELD

The Sun Belt Indoor Track & Field Championships starts Sunday. I'll try to keep you updated here.

 

February 17, 2013

FIU finishes rolling Stony

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

South Westside-20130217-01203
"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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