June 01, 2015

Very Few Thoughts on Columbia 4, FIU 3

*Amazing how many balls well hit by FIU Sunday either died on the way to beyond the fence or nearly assaulted fielders, who used their gloves for run defense and self-defense. Junior first baseman Edwin Rios, in possibly his last game as a Panther, crushed three balls. One got dropped near the right field fence in the first inning, one got caught after a long ride to deep left center field and a third found Columbia counterpart Nick Maguire's glove.

*For the third consecutive game, FIU scored in the eighth inning. Had the Panthers scored two runs Sunday, as they did Friday night against the Hurricanes and Saturday afternoon against East Carolina, we might still be playing the afternoon game. And but for FIU doing what everybody does, a bigger inning might've been there.

In the eighth, down 4-2, senior Brian Portelli got a leadoff walk. Senior Josh Anderson singled. With first and second, nobody out, sixth in the order Sophomore JC Escarra was coming to the plate. Senior Julius Gaines was on deck. 

The book says have Escarra bunt to move the runners into scoring position. It's what coaches from Forest Manor to Marlins Park do in that situation. It's what FIU did Sunday. Escarra bunted the runners over, Gaines walked on four pitches. After Adam Cline took over from Columbia freshman reliever Harrisen Egly, a sacrifice fly scored Portelli and pinch hitter Spencer Levine grounded into a fielders choice.

As Escarra squared to bunt, I asked out loud in the press box: why? Why not let Escarra swing away? Why give Egly an out? Why not make him show he can still get a guy out?

Because that wasn't assured. Egly had retired only one of the previous five batters. He'd walked two. He''d gone to full counts on two. Freshman fissures? Just losing his stuff after two innings work? Whatever, FIU decided to give up an out to put runners in scoring position for Gaines, who was 0 for 11 in the regional. 

The four-pitch walk to Gaines, after which Egly got yanked, didn't make the bunt choice look any better. If Egly's going to attack anyone in that situation, it's a slumping singles hitter he's facing with one out. Get him and Columbia's a long way to escaping the inning. Egly came close to the plate on maybe one pitch to Gaines. My 96-year-old grandmother could've stood on the Metrorail tracks and called those pitches.

Not saying Escarra definitely would've gotten a hit. He'd grounded out against Egly in the sixth and was 0 for 3 for the day. But, with the pitcher starting to fall apart, I kind of like Escarra's chances to do something positive that didn't involve an out: walk, hit, get hit.

*These last two weeks helped baseball coach Turtle Thomas not just keep his job for another year, maybe earned him an extension, but also got him $6,000 in bonuses: $2,000 for winning Conference USA, $2,000 for participating in an NCAA Regional and $2,000 for a team 2013-14 APR over 925.

Earlier this season, when FIU got ranked in the Baseball America Top 25, Thomas received an extra $2,000. The baseball program overall gets $5,000 in extra retail product from Adidas for winning Conference USA.

*Speaking of Adidas, in the regional, using Adidas bats solely, FIU managed seven runs and 20 hits in three games. Now, certainly, the Former Sunblazers faced better pitching in Coral Gables than they did at the Conference USA tournament they treated like the Baseball Furies. Still an interesting contrast.



May 30, 2015

Very Few Quick Thoughts on UM 6, FIU 2

*Senior shortstop Julius Gaines is a man.
In the midst of the worst first inning since the Bad News Bears lost their opener to the Denny's-sponsored Yankees -- two errors defensively, hitting into a double play offensively -- Gaines refused to wallow in self-pity, self-flogging or just self. He went to the mound to steady freshman pitcher Andres Nunez by telling him, basically, don't let my struggles mess up your game.

Afterwards, in a postgame media session he could've avoided if he chose (or coach Turtle Thomas chose for him), Gaines said exactly what most present and paying attention had to think after the four-run first: Nunez started off throwing well. FIU should've been out of that inning with little or no damage. The errors extended things into the badlands.

*East Carolina used five pitchers in losing to Columbia Friday afternoon. FIU used two.

*Nunez allowed one extra base hit. Once his curve got going, he confounded Hurricanes hitters. They didn't hit him hard at all. The decision to start him produced plenty of "Huh?" but with a little more defensive help, he'd have given FIU a pitching gem instead of a rock.

*You won't get that kind of THE-place-to-be energy for every FIU-Hurricanes regular season game, especially if the teams play more often than every four score and seven (minus four score) years ago. But, how could anybody at Mark Light Friday night not want two or three games a year with even half that atmosphere? It clearly demonstrated that whatever issues prevent these teams from playing yearly count as high school clique-type pettiness unworthy of grown folks making six figures a year. To paraphrase Cordelia Chase, get over it -- embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet or go out back and punch everybody's accents out of them.
Then come back and get this thing going again.


May 25, 2015

Closing Strong

I thought I saw a finishing kick with Juan Pablo Montoya surviving a terrible start and torn up wing to win the Indianapolis 500. Montoya ran third in that regard to some athletic types from Camp Mitch.

An FIU baseball team that didn't seem to have much chemistry or gumption all season showed it in beating Rice twice when it needed to just to get into the tournament and survive the first round of the Conference USA tournament. Then, they looked like the Big Blue & Gold Machine -- a .370 team batting average, 44 runs in four games -- as they blasted through the tournament to their first conference title since the 2010 Sun Belt championship, possibly saving coach Turtle Thomas' job in the process.

What a storybook finish for senior Josh Anderson after a tough testicle injury (is there any other kind?) earlier this year: hitting .467 with three homers and nine RBI.

So, now everybody waits for lunch to find out of FIU stays local to face the rivals in Coral Gables they never play or head for somewhere like Louisiana for the NCAA Regional.

In women's golf, junior Meghan MacLaren as she did in the Conference USA meet, scorched her third round with an even par 72, jumping 24 spots up the NCAA Women's Division I Championships leaderboard into a tie for 29th. Then, she beat Tulane's Gemma Drybaugh in a playoff for the ninth and final individual position that keeps her playing Monday.


May 16, 2015

More Rice For Baseball

This is why you take care of business early.

Saturday's pair of losses to Rice dropped FIU to No. 8 in Conference USA, but, thanks to Friday's win and a series win at Marshall, no farther.

So the Panthers get into the conference tournament and open Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. against...No. 13-ranked and tournament top seed Rice, against which FIU won two of 12 games over the last four seasons. But, FIU beat Rice when it needed Thursday so Wednesday isn't exactly The Charge of the Light Brigade.


May 12, 2015

On the Beach

Can a bunch of Owls put a Turtle in jeopardy of the FIU sharks?

I'm hearing two things about the future of FIU baseball coach Turtle Thomas.

The First: he's safe. An FIU collapse against Rice this weekend might raze the season by keeping the Panthers out of the Conference USA tournament but won't damage the program foundation. Thomas' contract runs out at the end of the 2016 season, anyway.

Also Heard: a movement whipped up by one significant South Florida business and political figure and one significant baseball figure desires Thomas' dismissal. That's in addition to the FIU followers disenchanted with a program heading toward its second losing season in three years despite being a Division I program in one of the nation's most talent rich areas.

Despite FIU baseball completely escaping disappointment since NCAA appearances in 2010 and 2011, Thomas' seat remained room temperature. To begin, that made economic sense. Thomas' contract states that firing him without cause -- and disappointing seasons or low level NCAA violations of practice time one year don't count as cause -- means he gets the contract balance of his base salary.

Now, that's a relatively minor hit by Division I athletic department standards, just over $104,000. That turns into a major hit if, say, you're an oversubsidized athletic department faced with funding the full cost of attendance for your scholarship athletes next fall. That's the nut facing Conference USA schools beginning in 2015-16 and has FIU looking for revenue streams, creeks, trickles, spit. I won't be surprised if I see someone in one of those blue Adidas shirts with the snarly feline trying to move stuff on Hardcore Pawn

Money should keep Thomas in place until the end of his contract.

Now, in a nod to the baseball team that might be busing from Hattiesburg for the Conference USA tournament back to Miami...





April 20, 2015

Small Ball Drop

Well, that descended quickly.

Most of Day 1 of the Conference USA women's golf championships, FIU maintained a gap on the field that would do Annika Sorenstam proud. The Panthers' team lead fluctuated between three and five strokes. Their team score held within a similar range, 3-under to 5-under. Junior Meghan MacLaren and sophomore Camila Serrano joined a gaggle atop the leaderboard.

Cruising along as if enjoying their new ACME Bat-Man outfits, when...


So why will FIU wake up tomorrow for Day 2 at Fort Myers Verandah Club tied for fifth with Southern Mississippi at 7-over 295, eight shots behind leader Middle Tennessee State? A five-hole collapse that ended with a THUD on the 18th.

With the golfers playing at different times, it's hard to pinpoint when FIU started to imitate Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft. Serrano owned a share of the lead when she triple-bogeyed the par-4, 382-yard 16th hole. That hole turned into the second of back-to-back bogeys for Katarina Krasnova, who bogeyed three Nos. 15, 16 and 18.

MacLaren bogeyed Nos. 15 and 18. FIU''s No. 2, sophomore Coralia Arias, got down to 1-over with a birdie on the par-5 13th. But she gave that back and then some with a double bogey on the par-4, 361-yard No. 14. A birdie on No. 16 was matched by a bogey on the par-4, 380-yard 18th (of FIU's five Round 1 golfers, only Serrano escaped a bogey on No. 18.).

FIU's five golfers played the last five holes at 12-over. Fortunately, two days remain for the Panthers to get revenge on the course and climb the leaderboard in the process. 

To see a collapse like that by an FIU team, you have to go all the way back to...Sunday. The 17-2 battering FIU took from Western Kentucky cost them the series with a team around them in the standings. It also dropped them to 2-4 on Sundays in Conference USA play, a big reason they're 8-10 in the conference with little room for error to make the conference tournament.

Head coach Turtle Thomas played off the tonnage of the beating, noting how many times the 1927 New York Yankees got slaughtered. But the team meeting after the game lasted a very long time. Senior shortstop Julius Gaines, who went three for four, theorized after the game and before the meeting that maybe the chemistry on the team still isn't right. Also, Thomas said sophomore Chris Mourelle, FIU's most reliable pitcher all season, threw only in the 81-82 mph range Sunday. Hopefully, there's not a problem there.

Truly, nothing went right for FIU.  Western got a run out of a pair of choppers to Gaines that hopped higher than Denver today. With two outs in the fourth, FIU third baseman Josh Anderson fielded a grounder from Danny Hudzina that looked fair to the top row of the press box. It was ruled foul, putting Hudzina back in the box.

BAM -- home run. Next batter, Ryan Church, ZOOM -- home run. Western scored two more that inning.

Church went six for six for the day, but a spectacular defensive play of his would've ended the game if umpires could stop a game the way boxing referees can stop a fight. First and second, one out in the fourth, FIU's Zack Soria blasted a missile down the first base line, a sure double for the half-second before first baseman Church snapped his arm out for the snag and stepped on first to double the stunned runner.

FIU trailed 8-1 at that point. If you're in Vegas, that's when you get up from the table, call it a night.

Bizarre game. FIU pitcher Garrett Cave's natural hat trick of hit batters, which loaded the bases and brought in two runs, then a walk that brought in a run. Dillon Maya hitting the first batter he faced to bring in another run. Third baseman Hudzina trucking his longtime pal Church as Church tried to settle under an infield fly ball (that actually put the first runner on before Church played Laser Snag in the fourth).

Also, FIU wasted its opportunities. First and second, no outs in the second? One run and that because Josh Anderson slid to break up a double play relay and keep the inning alive. Bases loaded, one out in the third? Bupkes. Anderson lined out hard to the shortstop and JC Escarra flied out to center field to end the inning.

Meanwhile, the softball team made the most of two hits against Western's superthrower Miranda Kramer and eked out a 2-1 win as Corinne Jenkins pitched a four-hitter. Freshman Jessica Hallett ruined Kramer's no-hitter and shutout with one swing that tied the game in the fifth. An RBI single by Gabby Spallone brought in Rebekah Sanchez. Jenkins finished the job from there. 

The win kept alive FIU's slim chances for making the Conference USA tournament, which will be at Felsberg Field May 7-9. To make the tournament, the Panthers probably will need to sweep Charlotte May 2-3 in the season-ending three-game series at Charlotte.

April 13, 2015

Monday Droppings

I'll be all over the place here.

FIU Arena's being prepared for its new seats and beach floor.


The athletic department caught a big break when that CrossFit-like (but not CrossFit, CrossFit wants to make sure you know) competition broke the beach floor. Players and past coaches complained about how unforgiving the old floor could be on knees and ankles. Now, FIU gets a new floor and somebody else pays for it.

Looking at head coach Marlin Chinn's contract, the first thing that struck me was the five-year deal gets extended a year each time FIU wins 20 games and makes the NCAA tournament. His base pay is $161,000. He gets a $10,000 bonus for a single season team Academic Progress Rate of at least 970 (the team's been a perfect 1000 each of the last three reported years) and another $10,000 for team GPA over 3.1. He gets an extra $7,500 for each of these achievements: getting into the NCAA tournament, Conference USA Coach of the Year, sole possession of a regular season C-USA title. 

I heard the whole women's basketball coaching staff got sacked Monday by new coach Marlin Chinn. That's high on the expectation list when a new coach comes in after the disaster of 3-26, 0-18. I'd be willing to bet longtime assistant coach Inge Nissen winds up somewhere else in the department or university.

I wasn't at Sunday's Athletic Academic Awards Banquet (also known as "Dress Up for Food & Instagram Shots"), which would've been a great time for a sayonara ceremony to Nissen and former head coach Cindy Russo. Considering how long and well they coached at FIU, that would've been nice. I'm not sure Russo was even invited. In her last three full seasons, FIU went to two Women's NITs and got farther than Jerica Coley's superpowers should have taken the Panthers in last year's Conference USA tournament (the program was rewarded with being told the run took the team over its travel budget for the season). 

Men's basketball guard Dennis Mavin and multi-titled swimmer Johanna Gustafsdottir won the Athlete of the Year awards of the appropriate genders. The entire golf team made the conference's academic honor roll, so no surprise it won the addidas Athletic Director's Award for best GPA of the year, 3.67. Women's soccer took the Paul Gallagher Community Service Award. The Michael Felsberg Spirit Award went to swimming & diving, which shared the Champs/Life Skills Challenge Cup Award with baseball.

Speaking of baseball, senior shortstop Julius Gaines gave the invocation for the entire event and received the team's Leadership Award. That capped a good Sunday individually for Gaines. Earlier in FIU's 5-4 11-inning loss to FAU, he cracked three singles to break out of an 0-for-18 plunge that also prompted a plunge down the batting order Sunday. Coach Turtle Thomas moved Gaines from leadoff to eighth.

"I definitely don't need to send a message to Julius Gaines. He's been with us for four years. He's a good baseball player," Thomas said. "He made some really good defensive plays today. (Moving down to eighth) gets you down there where you maybe see a few more fastballs, they're not killing you working you over in the top five of the batting order. It's just to give him a different look."

Gaines said at the plate, "I got out of my head. I just went up there and said I was going to put a swing on it and whatever happened, happened." As far as hitting eighth, he admitted, "There's not as much pressure. You worry about your at-bat at that time and whatever situation comes. Leading off, it's your job to get on base. It can weigh on you a little bit."

While Gaines shrugged off his defensive day as, "I did my job. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary," FAU coach John McCormack said, "Some plays that the shortstop made in this game? Wow. Julius played really well. Thank God he's leaving this year."

Gaines made a game-saving (for the moment) play in the eighth on pinch hitter Danny Murray's tough grounder with the bases loaded. McCormack marveled that Gaines operated efficiently enough to get control of the ball, see he'd be too late for the force out at second and still fired a Murray-beating throw to first.

McCormack said two other things I found interesting. He blamed himself for FIU's 6-5 win Friday. He said he should've gone to Seth McGarry immediately in the eighth with a 5-2 lead. Instead, he used lefty Devon Carr, who gave up two hits and a walk in four batters, sparking FIU's four-run eighth inning. 

He also said he didn't believe in any FIU-FAU rivalry.

"I don't believe in rivalries because the players continually change," McCormack said. "I'm not big on, 'Win this one for The Gipper, they're our biggest rivals.'"

Out on the football field, Ron Turner said FIU's lack of experience at wide receiver and abundance of tight ends and running backs wouldn't mean FIU would use double tight end sets more in 2015 because "we did a lot of it last year." But, Turner said, they'll use more sets with varying position numbers and groupings now that FIU's in the third year of running his offense. 

"I've told these guys from Day 1 I really believe in utilizing our personnel and moving them around. If you've got a guy and he's always in the same spot, they can take him away very easily. That's one of the biggest things I learned in the NFL -- get your playmakers involved, put in position to make plays. We've done a little bit of that the first couple of years, but not as much as we'll do this year. In that league, they pay those guys a lot of money. The owners say, 'I'm paying him a lot of money, why isn't he getting the ball? Why isn't he involved?'

"And we have some guys with versatility. Look at our tight ends. We've got three guys (Jonnu Smith, Ya'keem Griner, Akil Dan-Fodio) who can line up at tight end, line up in the slot, line up as a No. 1 receiver outside and, in some cases, line up in the backfield. Look at our running backs, same thing. We've got some guys who are strictly backfield guys or you've got some who can line up in the slot or outside. We've got a couple of wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and play some running back, quarterback or whatever."

After saying he was excited about all the different options for FIU, Turner joked once spring football ends, the coaches will have too much time to come up with too much other offensive stuff to teach. Or, maybe he was only halfway joking as staffs do make that mistake more often than is noticed.



February 17, 2015

Getting Dressed

You can skip this unless you're an athletics business wonk. Or just curious.

A few things about the deal with adidas, announced by FIU in January as a five-year deal worth around $2.6 million:

*FIU gets adidas footwear, clothes, equipment and accessories, but not for free. They get sort of a Costco deal on stuff -- shoes at 45 percent off retail price; clothes, equipment and accessories 50 percent off retail for everyone but baseball/softball, which gets only 37.5 percent off The Price is Right price. But baseball/softball gets theirs elsewhere, as you’ll soon see.  FIU must spend at least $300,000 each year, which is air hockey money for a properly-funded Division I athletic program.

*If FIU does spend $300,000 each year, it gets an additional $260,000 retail value of adidas product (stuff) in 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, $285,000 in 2018-19 and $310,000 in 2019-2020.

*For the football team using adidas footballs in practices and games, FIU gets $10,000 retail value of product each year.

*Under “Athletic Department Fund Raising”, adidas gives FIU $15,000 of retail product value each year.

*There’s various bonuses for team achievement and Coach of the Year. The largest realistically attainable one is $20,000 retail value product for a football team bowl appearance.

*Baseball gets the most extra stuff. Softball will get the same stuff in “an amount to be agreed upon when Adidas introduced these hardgoods” according to the contract. (Yes, I think it should be “introduces” but I’m quoting directly from the contract, so…)

Each year, FIU Baseball gets:

Up to 48 wood bats, up to 42 non-wood bats, 6 aluminum fungo bats, up to 36 fielder’s gloves, up to 40 wheeled locker equipment bags, up to 40 individual duffel bags, 6 coach’s briefcases, 5 wheeled catcher bags (two to be used for equipment), up to 96 pairs of batting gloves (replaced by wear and tear), up to 96 pairs of wristbands, up to 25 batting helmets, up to 6 sets of catching gear.

432 fitted baseball hats

$34,000 retail value of free product.

$4,000 retail value of free product for the head coach

The only other individual in the athletic department who gets free product is the athletic director, who gets $10,000 retail value of free product each year.


May 20, 2014

FIU grabs Conference USA Player of the Year & Freshman of the Year

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.

April 20, 2014

Saturday in the Park

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. 

March 16, 2014

A few thoughts on FIU vs. Rice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 24, 2014

Ramble On

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.

That would be something completely different.




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 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.


May 19, 2012

Baseball fall; Old Dominion, New Conference; More Ashley

Last week, FIU baseball coach Turtle Thomas likened his team to a football team that couldn't stop anybody when their offense is clicking, couldn't score when the defense is clicking or special teams failed badly enough to upend the whole mix. To use Thomas' metaphor, Thursday and Friday, FIU couldn't stop the early bombing, then coulnd't stop FAU in the two-minute drill.

And it could cost FIU the No. 3 seed in the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

Friday, reliever Michael Gomez took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth and left with a 4-3 loss that gave FAU the Sun Belt regular season title. The collapse wasted a fine start by Mike Ellis, which was an improvement on Thursday. Eddy Pidermann got pummeled for six runs in the first inning of a 12-2 blowout. 

Statistical oddity: Oscar Aguirre came into this series with zero home runs on the season. He has two solo shots in the first two games.

The two losses leave FIU at 15-14 in Sun Belt play, the same as South Alabama, which took two of three from FIU up there this season. FIU ends the regular season this afternoon at FAU hours before South Alabama hosts Troy in its regular season closer.


So Old Dominion joins Conference USA, putting the league at 14 members. My first thought was "Oh, cool, Cindy Russo and Inge Nissen coaching against their alma mater twice a year now!" Russo and Nissen played for ODU back when it ruled the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women and the NCAA barely acknowleged women's sports. (young fans or participants in women's sports who want a historical perspective where we are now versus where we used to be should check out Sports Illustrated's recent issue on the 40th anniversary of Title IX and the story that discusses the AIAW).

It also means one more school FIU should own in football for a while. ODU just restarted its program in 2009 and will go FBS (Division I in any other sports' language) in 2015.


Senior outfielder Ashley McClain got named to the All-South Second Team by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. McClain, a First Team All-South honree in 2010 and 2011, is the first FIU player to be All-South three times. 

May 09, 2012

Softball beats Troy 4-1 in Sun Belt tournament

With Mariah Dawson pitching, FIU dumped Troy 4-1 and will face the winner of No. 2 seed South Alabama vs. No. 7 Louisiana-Monroe Thursday.

So, let's just say they'll be facing South Alabama tomorrow.


In talking to Turtle Thomas for the story that ran in The Herald today on Mike Martinez, I asked him if the team missed Martinez in the season opening series against top 10 ranked Rice. Martinez, for a violation of team rules, didn't play in the series.

Thomas nodded that he thought Martinez would've made a difference in the extra innings loss, which FIU led 4-3 late in the game. Having Martinez's bat could've meant an extra run, thus giving FIU a big early season win.

Thomas figures the only way back to the NCAA Regionals is to win the Sun Belt tournament. He thinks only one Sun Belt team will make it and he's probably right -- FAU has the conference's best RPI at No. 78 in the nation. FIU is No. 118

March 05, 2012

Women's hoop; Beaupre diving; Big Game sez The Big Guy; Ashley, Ashley

To quickly summarize what could be either a fantastic or fantastically disappointing two days for FIU athletics….

In contrast to the one-and-done men’s hoop team, the FIU women ballers came from behind Sunday to take out Denver 67-59 -- 18 second-half points by sophomore guard Jerica Coley -- and now face No. 1 seed Middle Tennessee State in a Sun Belt Conference Tournament semifinal.

FIU lost to Middle by five at Murfreesboro and by 14 at The Branch. Up near Nashville, FIU held advantages in rebounds (42-31), shooting from the field (44.0 percent to 36.5 percent) and the line (eight of 11 greater than five of nine). But they went one of eight from three-point range to Middle’s seven of 28 and committed 24 turnovers to Middle’s 13.

Out near Sweetwater, a trio of threes propelled a 13-2 early second half run that erased FIU’s eight-point halftime lead. Also, FIU shot only nine free throws to Middle’s 25.

In the pool – or above the pool, then in the pool -- sophomore Sabrina Beaupre dives today in the NCAA Regional to qualify for next week’s NCAA Championships.

Tuesday, FIU baseball faces Boston College. Turtle Thomas deflected all questions about Wednesday’s exhibition against the Marlins by saying his focus is entirely on BC.

"Boston College will be a great RPI game," Thomas said. "That'll be the best RPI game except Florida State and Rice. That is a huge game." 

Thomas said redshirt sophomore Eddy Pidermann would start against BC.


Ashley McClain’s two RBI Sunday pushed her career total to an FIU-record 138 as the 8-11 Panthers beat Oregon State 4-1.

Friday and Saturday, FIU hosts the FIU Invitational, double-headers against DePaul and Delaware.


Because sponsors for the yearly PGA event on The Blue Monster change every few years, this is simply referred to by local golf scribes as Doral Week. That means, for the third consecutive year, I’ll be buried in bunkers and birdies and ball strikers until they hand out the big check on Sunday. Unless I see Kedrick Rhodes or Jake Medlock running up the 18th fairway, others will be handling spring football for us this week.



March 03, 2012

Extra Bases from Friday...

Some stuff from Friday night's 6-5 baseball win against Brown in the home opener...

The night before lefthanded sophomore pitcher Michael Ellis gets his start against Brown, he helped produced the game-winning run. Senior Mike Martinez, who went two for three (.533 this season) and walked twice, joked after the game about junior Adam Kirsch continually seeking counsel about his swing and said he told Kirsch he was fine. Kirsch admitted he was asking about quite a bit, but felt he'd missed on some good pitches earlier in the game. Kirsch said Ellis advised that he was getting his foot down late.

The next time up, Kirsch got a first pitch fastball and put it over the fence to break a 5-5 tie.

Freshman shortstop Julius Gaines has five errors in seven games so far, but head coach Turtle Thomas said, Julius is a freshman. He’s played every inning of all seven games. He’ll continue to play because he’s a good player. He’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

Thomas seemed to have more concern about redshirt junior starter Mason McVay, who didn't get the Ivy League visitors under control until the third inning or so.

“That’s what’s happening with him right now," Thomas said. "He goes out , struggles the first couple of innings, he settles in, he does fine as long as he stays in the game. The problem is, he’s got to figure it out earlier so he doesn’t throw 70 pitches the first two innings. Four innings, he had 95 pitches.”

That said, Thomas also complimented Brown on tenacity at the plate. One of the reasons McVay reached such a high pitch count in the first two innings was the Bears weren't leaving anything up to the umpire. If it was close, they were swinging and making contact and foul balls were fine with them.


February 15, 2012

Hitters, throwers, no catchers...

For an unspecified violation of team rules, two seniors, infielder Mike Martinez and right-handed pitcher Logan Dodds, have been suspended for the baseball team's season-opening series against Rice.

There will be a fuller season preview/series preview story in Friday's Herald, but one tidbit -- it looks like FIU's starting pitching rotation will be lefthanded R.J. Fondon, lefthanded former late reliever Mason McVay -- "He threw five nnings on Saturday and was not sore the next day at all, which was good. he came up to me and made that comment specifically," FIU coach Turtle Thomas said -- and righty Jose Lazaro, a freshman from Puerto Rico via North Broward Prep.


What's cool about junior Benia Gregoire being named Sun Belt Field Athlete of the Week for winning the weight throw at the Tiger Paw Invitational at Clemson? Well, other than doing it with a throw of 20.49 meters and being ranked ninth in the nation.

Gregoire's part of the track team. No sport at FIU labors with such comically poor facilities.  IMG-20111027-00196

My middle school track teammates, high school track teammates and every school we faced would laugh like we were watching Benny Hill if a coach suggested we practice in such a space.


Senior outfielder Ashley McClain is one of the 30 finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, an award honoring the all-around good person/athlete types who attain high standards of character, schoolwork, community involvement and playing well.

McClain made the Sun Belt Honor Roll for the 2010-11 school year on her way to a bachelor's in criminal justice. Now, she's working on a public administration degree.



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