Jaymz Cosme | Contributing Writer
FIU baseball loses 2-1 in its final series of the season against the Rice Owls at Reckling Park in Houston, Texas, and fails to qualify for the Conference USA Tournament.
The Panthers were in a three-way tie for the final spot, battling against Rice and the UAB Blazers.
If FIU had any hope of making the tournament for the first time since 2018, it would involve beating the Owls in this three-game series and seeing the Blazers fall to FAU.
Game 1 of the series started with a bang as FIU junior Ryne Guida and Rice junior Connor Walsh traded three-run home runs in the first inning.
The Owls added to their total with two RBIs on a double by junior Jack Riedel to make it 5-3 in the second inning.
The scoring came to a halt until the fourth inning when redshirt sophomore Brendan Roney scored off an error followed by an RBI single from redshirt junior Alec Sanchez to tie the game 5-5.
Walsh would score in the fifth inning to give Rice a 6-5 lead followed by FIU and Rice trading runs once again in the sixth.
Sanchez had a sac fly in the top of the sixth followed by Riedel responding with an RBI single to make the score 7-6.
After another Sanchez sac fly tied the game up, the Owls would put the game away with two runs in the bottom of the eighth to win 9-7.
FIU’s tournament dreams were now all riding on Game 2.
Guida kicked off the second game of the series with an RBI double in the first inning.
A rigid pitching battle would ensue as the Panthers’ 1-0 lead held for the next six innings due to a strong performance from sophomore Kevin Martin, who finished with only two hits allowed, three strikeouts and zero runs allowed.
But the Owls eventually broke through and tied the game 1-1 in the seventh off a double by graduate Drew Holderbach.
With no runs in the eighth, the game came down to the wire.
The next couple of minutes in this final ninth inning would simultaneously fulfill or crush the postseason aspirations of either team.
FIU went scoreless in the final inning, unable to break through the Owls’ pitching barrage.
It was now up to the team’s pitching and defense to step up to force the game into extra innings.
But it just wasn’t in the cards for the Panthers as Rice would score on an error by freshman Roylan Quevedo to give the Owls a 2-1 walk-off victory and a ticket to the tournament for their 15th appearance.
With the door shut on any chance at a postseason run, FIU looked to end the season with a win and head toward the future.
In the finale, Rice scored in the first inning and the Panthers responded with two RBIs.
FIU would continue its hitting spree in the third and fourth innings with a single by Sanchez and a triple by junior Nick Pitelli, ending the fourth with a 4-1 edge.
Rice retaliated with five runs in the fifth to surge back and take the lead 6-4. A quick two-RBI single by junior Dante Girardi would even the score.
A three-run home run by junior Adrian Figueroa and excellent relief pitching from redshirt junior Zac Lampton would push FIU ahead to finish the game, 10-7.
The Panthers now head into their first offseason under head coach Rich Witten as they finish with a 21-34 overall record and an 8-22 conference record.
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