FIU coach Turtle Thomas was pleased with the way his team came out swinging Saturday afternoon.
As for the end result? Not so much.
The Panthers (11-12, 1-4 Sun Belt), scoring all of their runs in the first three innings, came up short in the middle game of their series against Western Kentucky (13-10, 5-0 Sun Belt) at FIU Baseball Stadium, falling in a 9-8 slugfest that featured four lead changes.
Western Kentucky pitcher Austin Clay (3-1) silenced FIU’s bats in 5 1/3 innings of relief, striking out three and allowing just one earned run to earn the win while reliever Brennan Pearson picked up his first save of the season.
“We had a nice offensive approach, and then for six straight innings we couldn’t score a run. … That’s one of those games you need to win,” Thomas said.
The Hilltoppers wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, with designated hitter Devin Kelly hitting a single up the middle off FIU starter Ty Sullivan to drive in the first two runs of the game in the top of the first.
FIU shortstop Edwin Rios responded for the Panthers in the bottom half of the inning, hitting a high fly ball that carried over the left-field wall for a three-run home run, his third of the season, to give FIU a 3-2 lead.
Sullivan ran into trouble in the top of the second, though, surrendering four runs and the lead to the Hilltoppers in his final inning of work, forcing Thomas to go to his bullpen early.
“It’s always hard to win a game when you don’t get a good start from your pitcher,” Thomas said. “He’s been pitching well for us this year, but he just didn’t have his stuff going [Saturday].”
The scoring seesaw continued in the bottom of the second, with FIU catcher Aramis Garcia getting in on the act, hitting a line drive down the left-field line that sneaked just over the wall and inside the foul pole for a three-run home run to tie the score at 6-6.
In the third inning, RBI singles by outfielders T.J. Shantz and Zach Sweety put the Panthers back in the lead. But the Hilltoppers picked up a run in the fourth, and a two-run blast by center fielder Trevor Lowe in the fifth gave the lead back to Western Kentucky.
The series finale is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at FIU Baseball Stadium.