Brian Olmo | Sports Director
FIU baseball drops the three-game opening series to the George Mason Patriots 1-2 on Feb. 19, 2023, at the FIU Baseball Stadium.
The Panthers have undergone a lot of changes in the offseason, the most notable of which being the change at the head coach position. This was the first look fans got at coach Rich Witten’s newly-built squad and it was not the strongest first impression.
Game 1 of the series ended with FIU flaming out 8-2, but it wasn’t a game completely devoid of strong performances. Redshirt seniors Alec Sanchez and Mike Rosario each had a solo home run; Sanchez’s to score FIU’s first run of the season and for Rosario, it was in his first-ever at bat.
Redshirt junior Ryan Cabarcas and redshirt senior Evan Chenier put on a defensive show, striking out seven batters in four innings and four batters in three innings respectively. The Panthers struck out 16 Patriots by the end of the night.
George Mason took the lead in the third inning with two runs. Sanchez’s home run cut the deficit to 2-1.
But it all collapsed in the eighth inning, with the Patriots scoring five. The Panthers were unable to mount a counter-attack and Game 1 on opening night went to George Mason.
The next game was a pitching duel, as it opened with five straight scoreless innings. Both sides were pitching perfectly.
For the Panthers, it was their trio of junior Richie Pena, junior Cameron Knox and redshirt senior Christian Santana that shined, with each throwing three scoreless innings and combining for six strikeouts on the night.
Eventually, the standoff was broken as FIU finally drew first blood, going up 2-0 from a leadoff double by Sanchez that allowed Rosario and junior Adrian Figueroa to drive in a run each.
After the Patriots responded with two scored runs of their own in the seventh, junior Ryne Guida slammed a clutch RBI single to help the Panthers retake the lead. FIU stayed on top for the rest of the game, winning 3-2 and giving Witten his first victory as head coach.
In the series finale, the Panthers started strong, scoring in the first as junior Dante Girardi drove in off a Guida double to deep left center.
But as they’ve shown throughout this series, George Mason rarely waits to strike back. In the very next inning, the Patriots hit a solo home run to knot up the score, 1-1.
The Patriots then exploded, driving in three runs in the top of the fifth to bring up the score to 4-1.
Girardi would drive in yet again to make the score 4-2 and FIU would earn four more hits after. But by then, it was too little, too late as George Mason wins the deciding game, 5-2.
As this team plays more games together and builds chemistry, they should be able to put together better performances than this. It’s not about how a team starts, but finishes that’ll determine their success.
FIU looks to make up for the series loss against Bethune-Cookman, who they play on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at FIU Baseball Stadium. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. and the game can be streamed live on C-USA TV.
Follow Brian Olmo on Twitter at @Brian_Olmo11