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Ball So (Diamond) Hard

The Felsberg Invitational on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium went thusly for FIU: three for three against Bethune-Cookman, even 1-1 split with Michigan State (shutout win, close loss to Big Ten dregs) and a loss in their only game against Ole Miss (resident of the SEC softball's Bikini Bottom).

All of FIU's goals -- a 40-win season, conference title, NCAA tournament regional berth -- remain in play for the preseason Conference USA co-favorites when the conference season starts Friday with a three-game home series against Marshall. And after losing their Felsberg opener to Ole Miss 5-0, they came two runs from sweeping the remaining five games.

After the loss to Ole Miss, FIU coach Gator Rebhan immediately criticized sophomore Stephanie Texeira for impatience at the plate with runners in scoring position. In the next five games, Texeira went eight for 12 with three doubles, a home run and six RBI. Pitcher Corrinne Jenkins pitched a perfect 2 1/3 relief innings in the 4-3 loss to Michigan State, and gave up only two hits in five innings that comprised the 4-0 shutout. 

That first game featured Rebhan-coached FIU vs. FIU Past -- Ole Miss with last year's FIU head coach Jake Schumann and a former FIU assistant Sharon Palma as assistant coaches to Mike Smith.

This wasn't just one of 54 on the schedule for FIU. Unfortunately, it wound up being closer to zero of 54 after FIU managed three hits on Ole Miss pitcher Emily Gaitan.

"Obviously, it was a little bittersweet," Schumann said. "This is my team now and I would've been really upset if we'd lost the game. Part of you really wants those kids at FIU to do well. You brought them in, you put the time in. I'm not as excited as I would be, like I was in game 1 when we came back and won that game (after four last inning runs on Bethune to send the game to extra innings)."

Ole Miss carries the same "SEC team" designation that 2014 College World Series winner Florida and runner up Alabama carry and with all that means. That's about where the similarity ends. The preseason SEC poll picked Ole Miss last and the program's history of losing almost matches that of the Florida Panthers.

"A couple of things I've had to adjust to: I've been a head coach for 14 years. So, not being the boss, but being OK with the decisions being made," said Schumann, who handles the infield and the hitters. "Obviously, going to a town of 16,000 people in the middle of a forest from Miami is a big shock. There's not much to do especially on Sunday when everything's closed."

Schumann's first coaching job above mid-major level opened his eyes about the current state of college athletics. 

"It's obviously haves and have nots. The Power Five conferences definitely have an advantage over all the other conferences in the country. Coming from both, and actually seeing it, it is a big difference," he said. "Hopefully, the NCAA will do something to even it out, but I think it's just going to keep becoming a wider span (between the Power 5 and Group of 5 conferences). Not that teams like FIU shouldn't beat SEC schools or ACC schools or Big 12 schools, but the resources -- from academics to food to travel to everything -- is just so vast. It takes a lot of pressure off of you as coach. All you have to do is coach."

An FIU coach told me that at most schools, they fund raise for extras. At FIU, coaches fund raise to survive.

"Don't have to fund-raise at all," Schumann said. "All I have to do is coach and recruit."

And for more money in a cheaper market.

This is why, without some of the fund-raising groups you see at Rice or snagging someone tethered to South Florida, FIU's non-baseball head coaching jobs always will have a problem avoiding being seen as stepping stones.

BASEBALL

FIU took three of four from Manhattan College, outscoring the Jaspers 46-12. FIU got in batting practice. Manhattan got to escape the emasculating cold of New York. Call it a win-win.

 

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