*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.