It didn’t get any easier for the FIU baseball team after a three-game sweep at the hands of Ole Miss and a midweek loss at Stetson.
Hosting No. 19 Rice, a mainstay in college baseball postseason play, for the first of a three-game set, FIU lost its sixth consecutive game 7-2 on Friday night at FIU Baseball Stadium.
The Panthers (7-7) were able to get runners on base against Rice starter Austin Kubitza but couldn’t convert those opportunities into runs. Kubitza (2-0) struck out 11 Panthers, and FIU left a total of 13 runners on base, six of which came in the first three frames.
“We struck out too many times, didn’t put it in play with a guy on third base,” FIU coach Turtle Thomas said. “We should’ve scored three or four runs early in the game. No doubt about it.”
FIU starting left-handed pitcher Tyler Alexander (1-2) tossed a career-high 10 strikeouts in a losing effort after being moved up from his usual Saturday spot in the rotation with Michael Ellis injured.
“My 10 strikeouts doesn’t mean anything,” said Alexander, the junior who is in his first season at FIU after transferring from Hillsborough Community College in Tampa. “I want the W.”
In 6 1/3 innings, Alexander surrendered four earned runs off four hits and three walks.
He was cruising through the first three innings but then ran into some trouble in the fourth and fifth innings.
Rice clean-up hitter Michael Aquino, who leads the Owls (8-6) with five home runs, took Alexander deep in the fourth with a line-drive solo shot to left field off a changeup Alexander said Aquino was definitely expecting.
“I think they got a couple signs over there,” Alexander said. “I think they were sitting on that changeup.”
The Owls then manufactured two more runs in the fourth by loading the bases with one out, scoring on a fielder’s choice, and with two outs, bunting for a hit that drove in another run.
Up 4-2, Rice pulled away with a three-run eighth inning against Panthers reliever Mitchell Davis.
Shortstop Ford Stainback drove in two with a chopper up the middle that snuck through the infield.
FIU had chances early with runners on first and third and less than two outs in both the first and second innings and didn’t score. The Panthers then stranded the bases loaded in the third when sophomore catcher Aramis Garcia grounded into a double play.
FIU will play game two of the series Saturday at 4 p.m.