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.
It was closed. And, Ron Turner wasn't speaking to any outside media after practice. So, any complaints about the lack of a Herald blog report or story on FIU's practices, please call or e-mail Camp Mitch.
FIU's Pro Day is later this afternoon.
Friday presents an interesting dilemna for the discerning FIU fan. At 7-5 in Conference USA and 23-6 overall, the baseball team hosts an important series against Old Dominion, starting with a 6 p.m. Friday game. The open football scrimmage got moved to a 7 p.m. start.
So, you've got a paid admission game involving FIU's most successful team this school year now up against a free admission game involving FIU's most popular team. As if daily life wasn't enough competition for attendance in either case.
The second of two games with Florida Memorial, a replacement punching bag when Alcorn State pulled out of a pair of games originally scheduled for Mar. 11 and 12, turned out to be about as troublesome for the baseball team as fundraising is for the athletic department. But it made for drama that would've entertained a good many more than the 97 -- yes, I counted at peak -- folks been unable to resist the allure of baseball, "Angels in the Outfield" and a Miley Cyrus ticket raffle at FIU Baseball Stadium.
Afterwards, FIU coach Turtle Thomas threw all credit to FMU pitcher Eduardo Delgado. Early in the game, an FIU fan said he recognized the pitcher and "he's a good little pitcher. He'll give us trouble."
Junior L.K. Thompson said he cracked his two-run single off "a knuckleball or a splitter."
"It wasn't that we were swinging at bad pitches," Thompson said. "We were hitting them hard. We were hitting some right at people. They weren't really falling in. The right fielder had a few good plays. We had two line drives for sure that I remember in the infield right at people that could've been big runs for us."
I asked junior Aramis Garcia, who scored the winning run after his 10th inning single extended his hitting streak to 15 games, what Delgado had working.
"Just the fastball, slider, changeup. Nothing special. I don't know if we underestimated this team or we just didn't come out ready to play," Garcia said. "I think it was probably more we didn't come out ready to play."
Understandable, somewhat. FIU's just finished getting Teofilo Stevenson-ed by Rice over three rounds in a ranked team matchup of Who's Bigger in C-USA and a three-game set coming up against Marshall. The Panthers gangsta-slapped Florida Memorial 23-1 three weeks ago, leaving FMC looking like an easy sandwich game. But there was nearly strychnine in this sandwich.
Garcia acknowledged the first game might've been a factor.
"This is one of those games where we're glad we got the win, we've just got to focus on Marshall now," he said.
When I asked Garcia if he thought at all about his hitting streak on the line in the 10th inning, he said, "What hitting streak?" At first, I thought he was just trying to make the point that he ignores such individual things after a team accomplishment, like a win.
Then, I realized the legitimate blankness on his face. He really didn't know he had a 15-game hititng streak working.
As information overloaded as everyone can be these days, that's more amazing than the hitting streak itself.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Up in the piece of America where Gophers rule and icing is bad unless you're under serious defensive zone pressure, senior Sonia Perez Arau and junior Johanna Gustafsdottir will start the NCAA women's swimming championships Thursday. Both will be in the 200 individual medley and 200 backstroke, each of which Gustafsdottir holds the FIU school record. Backstroke queen Gustafsdottir also is in the 100 back while FIU distance queen Perez's third event is her best, the 400 IM, which she won conference titles as a junior and senior with meet record swims.
Softball coach Jake Schumann remains one win from 400 career wins. He'll likely get it during this weekend's three-game set at UAB. He went into last week's threesome at McNeese State on 399. FIU lost the first two games, then the third got rained out.
Some scatter shots from the two FIU-Rice games I covered this weekend:
*The Rice coaching staff doesn't play. When centerfielder Charlie Warren caught a short fly ball for the second FIU out in Saturday's eighth inning with Rice up 10-1, he either miscounted the outsm forgot that Aramis Garcia was on third or didn't think Garcia would try to score on such a short fly ball. Garcia tagged and scored as Warren lazily jogged with the ball. Warren got yanked before the next batter got out of the on-deck circle. Even at 10-2, brain flatulence is not tolerated.
*The ump blew a call and probably cost FIU at least one run on L.K. Thompson's grounder in the fourth inning Sunday. With runners on first and second, Rice third baseman Shane Hoelscher grabbed the slow grass hugger and ran back to the bag. Hoelscher leaped over a sliding J.C. Escarra and, seemingly, the bag. FIU coach Turtle Thomas got in the umpire's face at Barry Allen speed to energetically argue the out call. Without that call, if all following at bats stay the same, FIU gets at least one more run out of the inning, probably two.
*Then again, Saturday's second inning play at the plate off a great throw by FIU left fielder Roche Woodard looked safe to me. The out call cost Rice a run they eventually didn't need anyway.
*Rosenberg's Rowdies showed up Saturday and got under some of the Rice fans' skin. From what I heard, the team didn't complain, the fans did. Not sure if I put this here or on Twitter, but they prompted some of the Middle Tennessee basketball staff to say amongst themselves, "We need to put our student section near the opposing bench," noting with admiration how annoying the Rowdies can be for such a small group.
*That I was outside at a table for the two games wasn't some athletic department punishment toward The Herald. It's a function of FIU's paucity of press box space. Anything less than me and two other scribes works. Radio, with its equipment, expands to space. When Stetson brought its radio team earlier this year and the radio equipment, there was one relatively narrow space in the press box for me. This time, with Rice radio, no room at the inn.
Sitting outside allowed me to meet some parents and darken the skin. But laptops don't take direct sunlight any better than melanin-deficient skin does. And in case of rain, well...
My first thought as I watched FIU turn a 6-2 sixth inning lead into an 11-7 loss Sunday, thus going 0 for 3 against ranked Rice, was Trilogy of Terror, the TV movie cult classic best remembered for the third of three stories that starred Karen Black.
(When this popped up one night between my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I late one Friday night back in 1995, we got so giddy, I sprinted from Morton Towers to Blockbuster to rent it. That whole sentence looks archaic now...)
Then, my mind jumped to another trilogy, the Chuck Jones-directed Duck Season/Rabbit Season Warner Bros. cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd bouncing off each other. Although I know a few people got upset when I equated FIU to Daffy and Rice to Bugs in a Tweet, this seemed to fit. After talking to folks after the game and thinking about it on the drive home, it seemed even more tailored. Stay with me here:
Animation historian Joe Adamson, in Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years and Only One Grey Hare, writes, "...what becomes apparent is that Bugs is rooted in the forest, secure in his place there. Daffy is still trying to figure himself out."
Adamson quotes Richard Thompson, discussing the cartoons: "Bugs stands back from a situation, analyzes it, and makes his move; Daffy becomes emotionally involved, loses his distance, and blows it."
Now, listen to what pitcher Ty Sullivan said when I asked him just "What happened?"
“Looking at the way both of our teams played, Rice and us, we are as good if not better than them," Sullivan said. "But what went wrong with us was when one thing would happen, we would let things snowball instead of just minimizing (the damage). When we got into situations when our guys needed to make the big pitch or get the big hit, our guys started pressing, started trying to force it to happen instead of just relaxing, doing what we’ve done all season long, which is just compete at the plate and the mound, regardless o the score, the outs, who’s on base or who’s on deck. I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing we lost these games, but it shows what not to do in these situations against good opponents because we pretty much beat ourselves all weekend."
FIU didn't react to tight or bad situations this weekend with the cool confidence of believing in how good they are. Rice did. FIU's errors and misplays seemed to come in Costco packs. Rice's went solo. I don't know if the Panthers felt less sure of themselves because Rice looks like the best opponent on their schedule and clearly possesses the best pedigree.
"Sometimes, in baseball, you can try too little or you can try too hard," FIU coach Turtle Thomas said after Sunday's game. "Trying too little can mean you don't swing at enough pitches. Trying too hard means you chase too many bad pitches. We definitely chased a bunch."
Thomas figured FIU swung at 100 pitches outside the strike zone over the three days, then adjusted that up to 150 because "we chased more than three bad pitches per inning."
By the end of Sunday's game, every fly ball and grounder seemed to come with a suspenseful drum roll. That hasn't been this season's FIU, day games or not. I covered Games 2-8 this season. I saw third baseman Josh Anderson steal more hits than Linda Ronstadt. He did again late Sunday, a diving spear that was almost as good as second baseman Edwin Rios' game of Laser Snag that ended the third inning. Left fielder Roche Woodard sailed to turn an extra base hit into an out, then doubled the runner off first.
That's more the Panthers I've covered this season than the Josh Anderson who spent Sunday losing arguments with grounders or the outfielders who flubbed fly balls. Thomas estimated FIU gave Rice Sunday's difference, four runs, on two misplayed fly balls alone. FIU had three errors Saturday, three Sunday and that's with a home official scorer judging with a grandparent's generosity. I hadn't seen FIU make a baserunning error yet. Sunday, when Edwin Rios tried to score Sunday from third on a grounder to first, it seemed the epitome of wanting too badly to do something significant.
It's only one series. FIU's still 16-4. As far as black and white, getting swept only hurts in terms of eventual conference tournament seeding.
“I think this series will probably help us more than hurt us because it shows us where our weaknesses are," Anderson said. "We’ve been tested in the games before but playing a top-ranked team like Rice really tested us. Our weaknesses stand out like a sore thumb. This is a team we need to beat to win Conference USA. There’s a lot of positives to take out of this weekend, too.
"We know our weaknesses. We know what we need to fix. We saw good pitching. We know we can hit good pitching. We know we can compete with that team. We know we belong where we’re ranked. We only lost one game before this series.”
A busy awards Monday in the Conference USA offices -- FIU senior guard Jerica Coley lost Player of the Year to Middle Tennessee State's Ebony Rowe -- included FIU junior catcher/first baseman Aramis Garcia getting Hitter of the Week honors after FIU slapped around Bethune-Cookman and swept Charlotte in their first C-USA series.
Garcia cracked three home runs, two doubles and a single with five RBI.
Collegiate Baseball ranks FIU No. 19
FIU plays perennial Conference USA favorite Rice this weekend at Camp Mitch to determine the best team in C-USA right now.
Rice is No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches poll in which FIU received votes. FIU isn't in the Baseball America Top 25, while Rice is No. 15. FIU is up to No. 29 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll while Rice is No. 18. Perfect Game's poll puts Rice at No. 15 and FIU among Five Others to Watch.
Last year, Bethune Cookman won two out of two against FIU baseball. Wednesday, Bethune got two hits against FIU.
Specifically, two hits against freshman Chris Mourelle, who walked none and sent down the final 23 Bethune batters in a 6-0 FIU win. FIU opens Conference USA play this weekend at 2-7-1 Charlotte, which is on a seven-game winless streak. The true yardstick series for the 12-1 Panthers, however, comes the following week, at home against perennial Conference USA favorite Rice.
Jerica Coley was named Academic All-District and Third Team Academic All-American. So, of course, she made Conference USA's Academic All-Conference team.
Then, Wednesday night, Coley scored 29 in a 67-65 last-second loss to Louisiana Tech in Ruston. She's eight points away from 3,000 for her career. Only the Conference USA tournament remains in the career of one of FIU's finest student-athletes.
SWIMMING & DIVING
The song remains the same with the names from FIU going to the NCAA Championships.
That's three times in a row for junior Johanna Gustafsdottir, who'll swim the 100 backstroke, 200 back and 200 individual medley; two years in a row for senior Sonia Perez, who'll do the 200 back, 200 IM and 400 IM; and would be the fourth consecutive year for diver Sabrina Beaupre, but she skipped last year's NCAAs to get surgery on her long-injured ankle.
Beupre and freshman Lily Kaufman will dive in the NCAA Zone Regional next week. The swimmers will be in Minneapolis for the NCAA Championships, Mar. 20 through 22.
The softball team took two games, Detroit-Mercy being an after dinner snack after upsetting No. 19 Minnesota 3-1. Freshmen Gabby Spallone knocked in a run with her first hit and scored another after her second. Freshman Stephanie Texeira doubled in freshman Marina Carmona. Note the repeated use of "freshman." The softball team comes home from Arizona at 14-6.
Back on Miami-Dade County soil, we saw the wearing out of the Greens.
For Sunday brunch (no mimosas, though) baseball smacked around Dartmouth and came home eased up with an 11-7 win that puts FIU at 11-1 with another round of national rankings coming today. Perfect Game's Top 25 puts FIU just outside the rankings, as one of Five to Watch.
FIU's got five hitters over .300, led by Aramis Garcia (.463) and Josh Anderson (.460) and Zach Sweety at .294. But when you've got starters with ERAs of 1.12 (Mike Ellis), 1.65 (Mike Franco), 1.00 (Robby Kalaf) and 1.64 (Cody Crouse) you could have a Hee-Haw lineup of banjo hitters could get you through the night.
On the court, Tulane's Green Wave got swallowed by a rogue wave from FIU. The Panthers jumped to a 10-0 lead and kept pace past the signposts. I thought, FIU's playing extremely well, but if that lead gets under 10 at halftime, I'm worried. FIU led by 10 at half. Then I thought, OK, don't let the lead get down to four or five. It was down to five at 42-37 for one possession. Rakeem Buckles dropped in a three. Tulane suddenly looked like John Belushi's Samurai hotel clerk when Richard Pryor's Samurai chopped a desk in half to end an argument: "I understand where you're coming from."
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick walked in at halftime, dressed for a sunny March day in Chicago, with a few pals. President Mark Rosenberg and athletic director Pete Garcia talked with the group for a few minutes before showing them to a cabana. A cooler quickly was produced. The group hung out until about four minutes remained in the game. Kaepernick declined to say what drew he and his crew to spend part of a sunny Sunday watching Tulane vs. FIU.
SWIMMING & DIVING
I forgot to note FIU's Rio Ramirez received Conference USA's Diving Coach of the Year award.
I'll get to this morning's Board of Trustees' Athletics Committee meeting in my next post. And baseball clobbered The Green of the Ivy, Dartmouth, 11-0 to go to 10-0 this season.
Spring football starts Mar. 18 and runs through April 12. Conference USA's football media days are July 22 and 23 in Dallas.
But, elsewhere, FIU folks are trying to win conference championships swimming and running, so let's get to that.
In the Atlanta pool, the favorites paid for FIU, trailing leader Rice by 181 points and leading third place East Carolina by 28 points.
Senior Sonia Perez Arau knocked 4.02 seconds off Quincy Christian's Conference USA meet record and won the 400 individual medley by 4.84 seconds with a 4:12.11. Perez was third after the opening butterfly leg, then destroyed the field with a 1:03.20 backstroke leg that put her 2.14 seconds up halfway through the race. She closed with the race's fastest freestyle leg, 57.02. Second coming out of fly was sophomore Becky Wilde, who stayed in the mix with the non-Perez part of the field through back. But after breast, she was slotted into sixth, where she finished in 4:22.20.
After senior Sabrina Beaupre finished second in Thursday's 3-meter springboard diving, I'd have bet my next paycheck on Beaupre taking the 1-meter springboard and 10-meter platform. As predictable as the Canadiens winning the Stanley Cup in the late 1970s, Beaupre won her seventh conference title.
If junior Johanna Gustafsdottir hadn't reset her 200 free school record by leading off Wednesday's 800 free relay with a 1:46.90, her 1:47.55 in Friday's 200 free final would've done it. That got Gustafsdottir, who came into the meet seeded fourth, a third behind Rice's Casey Clark (1:46.98) and FAU's Agi Bucz (1:47.47). Gustafsdottir led Clark by the start of a wink after 100, but Clark blew out a great third 50 and a strong final 50, while Bucz swam the race's fastest final 50 to pip Gustafsdottir for second.
Junior Klara Andersson got FIU points with an eighth in the 100 breast with a 1:03.17. Andersson's 1:02.89 in the prelims was a tick off Jessica Chadwick's school record 1:02.84.
I picked the 400 medley relay for an upset on a whim. The team of Gustafsdottir, junior Dani Meara, freshman Jenny Alfani and Andersson came in fourth behind Rice's 3:39.00. FIU's 3:43.19 was the second best time in school history behind the 3:40.87 posted by last year's Sun Belt Championship winner, an all-star concoction of the 100 back (Gustafsdottir), 100 breast (Chadwick), 100 fly (Marina Ribi) school record holders and Andersson, who had second best 100 free in FIU history behind Gustafsdottir.
Friday, Gustafsdottir gave FIU the lead after the leadoff backstroke (of course). She didn't swim the 100 back Friday, but surely will swim the 200 back Saturday. FIU could get a win there and from Beaupre in the 10-meter platform. FIU's seeded second behind Rice in the 400 free relay.
Inside the Birmingham CrossPlex, FIU and East Carolina's women dominated iron slinging. FIU sophomores Miriam Pierre (61 feet, 5 1/2 inches) and Chelsea Goburne (58-4 1/2) finished second and fourth amidst a 1-3-5 placing by East Carolina women that was led by Kayla Padgett's 68-5 3/4.
In the ongoing events, sophomore Brandon Ballard qualified for Saturday's 800 meters final with a 1:54.44, sixth fastest among the final eight. Senior Lashae White got out of the 400 prelims in 56.04 seconds. Sophomore Cam'ree Jackson hustled to a 7.54 60 to make that final. Senior Desmond McGill shot through the 60 hurdles in 8.15 seconds, the fourth best of the eight finalists separated by 0.13 seconds.
Senior point guard Jerica Coley scored a career-high 47 and 35 points in her two games last week. She also averaged 10 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. For this, she won her second Conference USA Player of the Week award.
Coley also made the cut to 22 for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the best point guard in college ball. The award is given by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
College baseball polls outnumber flagpoles at the United Nations. Perfect Game and ESPN/USA Today doesn't rank 8-0 FIU. But Collegiate Baseball's weekly poll puts the Panthers at No. 30.
That should be 9-0 after Tuesday's game agianst Florida Memorial.
While the stick and ball teams take a break from using their bats on visiting teams like they owe FIU money, swimming and diving prepares to leave for Atlanta and the Conference USA meet.
(They won't need to do any Internet panhandling, but the volleyball team is still at http://www.gofundme.com/FIUVolleyball, $195 toward their goal of $6,000. While you're on the site, you can contribute to the Oswego State Synchronized Skating Team's trip travel to nationals. Or the Coppin Academy Girls Basketball team trying to raise $6,000 to attend a summer camp.)
Lack of diver depth hurt FIU in the Sun Belt meet and could do the same here after senior Sabrina Beaupre takes the 10-meter platform and at least one of the two springboards. She's favored in all three.
In the pool, C-USA's tougher than The Belt and FIU no longer has Madame Butterfly, Marina Ribi, to pick up points in that dastardly stroke. Still, junior Johanna Gustafsdottir ranks first in the 200 backstroke and second in the 100 back. Senior Sonia Perez Arau comes in with the best 400 IM time in the conference. Klara Andersson is a close third in the 50 freestyle, which she won at last year's Sun Belt meet.
And FIU will bring home a relay win or two. I'm thinking 400 medley and 800 free. Just noticed -- the common thread in every school record relay is Gustafsdottir swimming the first leg. That makes sense. She's strongest in back, the first stroke of a medley relay. Her next strongest stroke is free. Classic relay set up uses the second fastest to lead off with the fastest anchoring.
I'd be shocked if the water women can give the athletic department its first Conference USA title. Defending champion Rice is still strong and East Carolina looks like a possible problem. That leaves baseball and softball -- track? Name the last conference champion without a coach -- and both of them get blocked. Rice owns baseball while UAB and Tulsa tussle over softball.
No, the baseball team isn't outscoring the football team after eight games. They were after three games (25-23) and four games (30-23). But if you just count scoring against Division I/FBS opponents, it's closer than you think after eight games: 78-63 for football.
When I saw FIU football coach Ron Turner at FIU Baseball Stadium with his family Saturday on the concourse on the first base line. I thought, "Boy, he'll go anywhere to see some offense." The Sunday juxtaposition couldn't have been more ripe -- FIU sports and centertainment head Pete Garcia attending hte baseball game with Butch Davis, the currently unemployed former coach at the Universty of Miami.
Now, if Davis wants back in coaching, he's got to cleanse himself by working somewhere else for a year or two. Obviously, FIU would be a fine place for that. Maybe Davis has changed his mind about FIU. He certainly could've joined his buddy Garcia a year ago and a few candidates (or their representatives) said they were told, "don't bother, this is Butch's job." Garcia's fits of temper and rash decisions would do Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts proud -- thus why some in the department call the second floor area housing Garcia's office "The Tower of Terror" -- but firing Mario Cristobal without a card like Davis to play exceeds Garcia's Yosemite Sam quotient.
North Carolina was on the hook for Davis' money, so nothing about that green affected Davis taking FIU's green. A theory I formed while writing about Saturday's 10-0 baseball thumping of Stony Brook: Davis learned the horrible academic situation facing FIU football in 2013 and decided to let someone else deal with that academic barf. If I knew about it in December, 2012, why wouldn't Davis?
This weekend's baseball stories were easy to write. FIU won three blowouts, scored early in each one and I didn't have to spend any time waiting to talk to coaches or players or transcribing their quotes. I did talk to Stony Brook Friday night starter Frankie Vanderka, one of the better pitchers FIU will see in non-conference play, about what pitch Julius Gaines drove for a home run and what he thought of FIU's lineup. On Saturday and Sunday, I wasn't going to waste the Stony Brook coach's time asking him his opinion of a team that just waxed him by 10 runs.
I'd have liked to talk to Aramis Garcia, hitting .500 over the first eight games; or freshman JC Escarra, with a team-leading .577 on-base percentage; or Josh Anderson, last year's team leader in doubles with 22, already with five this year and 14 RBI.
Alas, FIU coaches and players were unavailable for comment to the media. I'd been told before Friday's game that would be the case. Officially, it was Turtle Thomas' decision so everyone could remain focused on baseball without any distractions. Logically, that dog didn't hunt. Postgame interviews are, you know, postgame and about 18 hours before the next game. They take less than 10 minutes total time, two or three players and Thomas combined, once they start. There wasn't media, only a medium -- me -- for three of the first five games (as well as Friday and Saturday). And the Panthers looked none too distracted in winning their first five games. Also, Thomas does answer questions from FIU media relations after the game.
Of course, this came from above Thomas. Thomas' bosses are Garcia and Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub. This was a predictable reaction to the Dennis Wiseman story, but mostly because I'd long ago heard that neither was too pleased about a series of public records requests I've been making since December on a broad range of things. Sometimes, I just feel there's information I should have. Sometimes, I'm curious. Sometimes, I smell something.
Marketing's now Staub's thing, by the way. He's now the most motivated salesman in FIU athletics. In addition to his $110,000 salary, Staub gets $1,000 bonuses for football season student attendance being above $20,000, then another grand if over $30,000; basketball season student attendance over 5,000, then 10,000; basketball season tickets over 500 and over 750; baseball ticket revenue over $15,000 and $20,000; football ticket and sponsorship revenue (excluding Pepsi) over $1 million and over $1.5 million; sells the naming rights to FIU Baseball Stadium or five other new athletics assets; and sells all the suites for one season for football and basketball.
By the way, the victory song for FIU during the Turtle Thomas era used to be "New York, New York." Not sure why, but it's become custom since 2008. Now, under directions from marketing, it's Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," both the highest charting and worst Kool and the Gang single ever. Feel the cliche.
Oh, I forgot, The Master Plan Development for Camp Mitch from Feb. 14 still shows a soccer field surrounded by a track as a Future Development. Not even Funded or Likely Funded. Future Development.
To let you know how far into the future that might be, also in that category is Stadium Upper Bowl Expansion. That'll be about as useful as a weave store for skinheads until Ron Turner turns into Dr. Alchemy followed by Staub turning into P.T. Barnum.