Jacob Spiwak/ Asst. Sports Director
After struggling mightily against Southeastern Conference opponents University of Mississippi and University of Missouri early this season, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the FIU baseball team when their level of competition lowered a bit.
The Panthers entered a long four-game home series against Seton Hall University with an abysmal record of 1-4, with FIU’s lone win coming against the NAIA-level St. Thomas University Bobcats.
The reigning Conference USA champion Panthers proved that they were much better than their record showed, taking three of four games from the Pirates of Seton Hall and improving their record to 4-5.
If this were a normal three-game weekend series FIU would’ve gotten the sweep, but unfortunately for the Panthers the series had an extra game that Seton Hall won 2-1 in an extremely competitive pitcher’s duel.
Regardless, an FIU team that still has a lot to figure out made a statement that they don’t plan on taking a step back after winning the C-USA Tournament in 2015. Each of their three wins were very decisive, as they outscored the Pirates 23-5 in the weekend portion of the series.
I wrote last week that FIU’s pitching staff was going to be their strength moving forward and that prediction has looked better seemingly every time the Panthers have taken the field as of late.
Led by sophomore lefty Dominic LoBrutto out of the bullpen and ace starting pitcher Andres Nunez, FIU pitchers held the Pirates to just four earned runs in the four-game series. That’s phenomenal no matter what level you’re playing at or who your opponent is.
Head Coach Turtle Thomas stated after the home opener that it was much too early to decide what his starting rotation would be for the rest of the season and every single one of his pitchers are throwing so well that it’s making his decision that much harder.
However, any coach around the country would be the first to tell you that this type of pitching performance delaying a decision on the rotation is a great problem to have.
As far as the Panthers’ offense is concerned, my colleague Louis Agudelo said it best during the offseason when he compared the FIU lineup to a sandwich with no meat.
Essentially all of the top power hitters that propelled this lineup to the C-USA championship last year are no longer on the roster, and the effect has been obvious.
FIU has hit only four home runs this season, all of which came from just two players (2 home runs apiece from Nick Day and Kenny Meimerstorf).
While FIU struggles to hit for power, something this lineup has shown a tremendous ability to do is get on base consistently.
Whether it’s been via a single, which accounts for 75 percent of the Panthers’ 96 hits this season, or a walk/hit by pitch (total of 35), the Panthers’ new-look lineup has shown a lot of discipline at the plate.
It’s still very early in the season and the Panthers still have a losing record. But with their next ten games being played at home, a lights-out pitching staff and a lineup that always finds a way on base, there’s reason for optimism despite being swept by the SEC to start 2016.