Louis Agudelo/ Staff Writer
Since Feb. 28, the Panthers have lost 4 out of 5 games, bringing their record on the season down to 5-8. This team is currently hitting .304 as a collective, but is giving up almost 5 runs per 9 innings as a pitching staff and needs to figure things out, fast.
Tuesday, March 1, with a chance to complete a four-game sweep of the Seton Hall Pirates, FIU, for lack of a better cliche, dropped the ball.
Cody Crouse started the game, but would only go three innings in a game that featured 7 different Panther pitchers. This is the same number of hits posted by the FIU offense, a number that is below what we’re used to seeing from this 2016 squad.
The staff only gave up 2 runs to the Pirates all evening, but those two would prove to be too many to match, as the game would be lost by FIU 2-1.
With three days to get their minds right, the Panthers would welcome the Loyola Marymount Lions to Miami, for the first time in this program’s history. This would be another 4-game series for this Panthers, but this one different from the last in that all 4 games would be played in 3 days, rather than 5.
“LMU is a lot like Ole Miss,” said Turtle Thomas commented Sunday, March 6, in that both teams play a very high level of baseball. Teams that Thomas said, “you really ought to beat, to do something, that’s all there is to it”.
The first game of the weekend got off to a quick start, when a couple key mistakes put LMU on the board with the first two runs of the game.
FIU would answer back with small ball and two of their own. A true pitcher’s duel followed between Andres Nuñez(1-1) and J.D. Busfield of LMU. Four innings went by without a run scored for either side before a bases clearing triple put the Lions back on top 4-2.
The Panthers had 10 hits in the game, but didn’t score any runs until the bottom of the ninth, when RBI’s from J.C. Escarra and Austin Rodriguez tied the game back up at 4 apiece, but FIU would leave a man on, and send the game to extra innings.
Loyola Marymount would go on to score a run in the top of the 12th inning that FIU had no answer for, ending the game over 5 hours from the first pitch.
Saturday featured a double-header. and began with a Chris Mourelle (2-3) start. Mourelle struck out four batters, but gave up 5 runs, all of them earned. He was taken out in the sixth inning and the seventh began with the score 5-2 LMU.
The Panther offense managed 10 hits yet again, but could only score three runs in the first game of the double header and began the second game later that night, already down 2-0 in the series.
Garrett Cave(1-1) started the 6 o’clock game striking out four, but potentially putting tremendous stress on his arm, throwing 104 pitches in only 5 and one-thirds innings. J.C. Escarra and Irving Lopez combined for 5 hits in that game to propel the Panthers to their first and only win of the weekend, dominating the Lions 6-0.
After being handed their sixth loss of the season, the Lions came out Sunday on their own prowl to make up for it. Cody Crouse (0-1) beared the brunt of it as he gave up 9 hits in 5 and one-thirds innings pitched.
Crouse did strike out 6 batters, and only gave up one run, to his credit. The scoring for LMU didn’t really begin until the sixth inning, with that first run off of Crouse and then 4 more in the top of the seventh.
The Lions would score three more in the ninth inning, bringing their run-total to 8 and their hit total to 15 on the day. Even on the back of efforts like Zack Soria’s three hits in three at-bats, the Panthers couldn’t capitalize when they needed to, and left 8 runners on base, eventually losing the game 8-4.
Turtle Thomas didn’t hang his head too low after the series finale, as he told student media that Loyola Marymount “can execute better than any team we’ll play all year”.
With the season still being as young as it is, there wasn’t much to be taken away from the series, according to Thomas, although he did say, “We gotta learn how to play 9 innings, for one thing”.
They’ll have plenty of chances to do that, considering that following those comments on Sunday, and up until about that time the next Sunday, his team will be playing at least 45 more innings, all in preparation for when his team starts facing Conference USA opponents like the University of North Carolina at Charlotte later this month on March 18.
FIU pitching seems to be doing their jobs to the best of their ability, and that works for this team, and against most of the opponents they play most of the time, holding opponents to a .269 batting average.
The offense isn’t much of a problem, either, with a team average of .304 through their first 13 games.
The key to more success for this FIU team will be hitting with runners on base, and getting hits in important situations, as their timing so far has left them 3 games under .500, at 5-8. It’s a mark they’ll look to improve this week on Tuesday against Stetson University, Wednesday against Illinois State, and then a three-game series against Manhattan College Friday, Saturday and Sunday.