FIU outfielder Roche Woodard felt disrespected in the bottom of the 10th inning when he approached the plate for the second consecutive time after a USF pitcher had intentionally walked a previous batter in order to face him.
Woodard made the Bulls pay with two outs and runners on first and second with the scored tied — stroking a line-drive to left-center past an outfield playing him shallow for the walk-off base hit and a 4-3 victory.
Wednesday’s winning run was the second in as many days for the Panthers, who swept the two-game miniseries against the Bulls (7-10) at FIU Stadium.
“My main goal was just find a pitch I can hit, find a pitch I can drive in the strike zone — don’t chase any pitches,” Woodard said. “I saw the center fielder come in after my first swing, so I knew I just had to get the ball deep enough over his head and we‘ll win the game.”
As Nathan Burns crossed the plate, the Panthers (10-8) rushed out of their dugout to mob Woodard, most of them screaming “Ro-shay,” a play on rapper Rick Ross’ nickname “Rozay.” Ross’ song King of Diamonds is played before Woodward walks to the batter’s box.
“I’ve never had that feeling before,” Woodard said. “I have hit a walk-off before, but I’ve never had that feeling before with my teammates, and it was a great feeling.”
Freshman starting pitcher Dillon Maya had his best performance on the mound since pitching a no-hitter in a high school playoff game as a senior at Coral Gables against Hialeah Gardens.
Maya, making his first collegiate start after six relief appearances, tossed six scoreless innings, striking out four and giving up just two hits and three walks.
“I felt good. I had my fastball, my changeup working, mixed in some curveballs,” Maya said. “Every pitch was just down, hitting my spots and just kept the hitters off balance.”
Leaving the game with a 2-0 lead, Maya came away with a no-decision after USF designated hitter Alex Mendez blasted a two-run homer to right off reliever Mike Gomez to tie the score at 3 in the eighth.
Freshman Jason Morozowski (1-0) finished the game, pitching two scoreless innings of relief for the win.
The Panthers got on the board first, scoring two runs in the fifth. Leadoff man Julius Gaines drove in T.J. Shantz with a single and Edwin Rios brought Gaines home two batters later with a base hit of his own.
The Panthers have won three in a row after ending a seven-game losing streak. Coach Turtle Thomas says rebounding from the losing streak made his team better.
“We were playing good competition,” Thomas said. “Playing good competition sometimes and losing still makes you better if the guys in the locker room let it make you better.”
FIU will play its first Sun Belt Conference series of the season at FAU on Friday.