Nobody expected FIU to have much trouble with Florida A&M’s struggling baseball team Tuesday night. And even though it wasn’t as easy as expected, the host Panthers did pull out the victory.
“We didn’t play great,” Panthers coach Turtle Thomas said as his team improved to 16-12 while Florida A&M dropped to 2-28. “I told the team we were coming off a pretty good weekend, and that we didn’t want to take a step backward after making that step forward. I would say the best way to put it is that we sort of maintained things tonight.”
The Panthers flexed some muscle against the Rattlers with two home runs producing an early 5-0 lead.
Edwin Rios had a two-run shot in the first, and T.J. Shantz added a three-run blast in the fourth.
That was the bulk of the offense, and pitcher John Caballero provided most of the defense by tying up the Rattlers’ bats.
Caballero, a senior, went seven innings, his longest outing ever for FIU. He gave up one earned run.
“My first two outings this year were not that strong,” Caballero said, “so this helped.”
Caballero, a lanky 6-5, 200-pounder from Dade Christian, said the Panthers are gaining momentum.
“Right now, we’re going into games with confidence, and that helps you stay in rhythm,” he said.
Shantz needed a confidence boost for himself, and that’s what his home run provided as Zach Sweety and Chris May, who both walked, scored ahead of him in the fourth.
“I haven’t had an extra-base hit in a while,” Shantz said. “I was working with my coach and he was trying to get me to stay back and let the hands do the work.”
Of his homer over the left-field fence, Shantz said, “I had a good feeling it was going to be gone.”
Rios’ homer in the first, over the right-field fence, scored Shantz ahead of him.
“[Pitcher Javon Johnakin] gave me a curve,” Rios said. “That’s my weakness that I’ve been working on and I caught it.
“It felt good right off the bat.”
Florida A&M made the game a little closer with two runs in the ninth.
The Panthers and Rattlers will square off again Wednesday at 4 p.m.