Saturday at FIU Baseball Stadium operated as a crescendo for a three-part symphony of two teams headed for the Sun Belt tournament in opposite ways.
FAU (35-20, 19-11) only worked seven innings to sweep the three-game series and stretch its win streak to seven, the 12-1 score enacting the 10-run travel rule for the last game of a series. FIU (25-30, 13-17) continued imitating a base jumper with a ripped parachute: 13 losses in its final 15 games, producing the first sub-.500 regular season since 2008.
“We’ve been setting our pitching up all along for the conference tournament,” FIU coach Turtle Thomas said. “We’ve been getting certain guys experience, sometimes to the detriment of winning a game or two.
“Everybody’s 0-0 come Wednesday. It’s the start of a new season. Nobody has a better or worse record. We all have an equal opportunity. The last two years, No. 8 and No. 6 won the conference tournament. The host team hasn’t won in probably 10 years.”
FIU goes into the Sun Belt tournament at Louisiana-Lafayette as the No. 6 seed.
Saturday followed the series pattern in two ways. First, FIU lost the first game 4-3 in extra innings, then Friday night by a 3-0 shutout. Saturday again increased the margin of defeat.
Also, for the third time this series, FIU fell behind early. On Thursday, it took two innings. On Friday, it took one FAU batter. On Saturday, it took two FAU batters.
Junior right fielder Geoff Jimenez’s first home run of the season gave the Owls a 1-0 lead. That got to 2-0 when junior left fielder Tyler Rocklein singled, stole second and scored on freshman second baseman Brendon Sanger’s single.
FIU ended its first inning by running itself into a double play for the second time in two games. Junior Zach Sweety left first base on what looked like a hit-and-run but never returned when sophomore Aramis Garcia’s popped high and foul behind the plate. FAU senior catcher Mike Spano made the catch, then threw to first to double Sweety.
Then came the second inning, which put everyone on travel rule watch (series usually end on Sundays, with classes the next day and a visiting team farther away than a 50-mile bus ride).
With one out, FIU freshman right-hander Alex Seibold walked sophomores Ricky Santiago and Mitch Morales. Senior Nathan Pittman’s grounder to first forced Oscar Aguirre to choose between jumping back to first for the easy force or throwing to second for that force out.
Aguirre went for the latter and the throw wound up in the outfield, letting Santiago score.
Seibold walked Jimenez to load the bases and struck out senior Mark Nelson. One out from getting out of the inning with minor damage, Seibold never got there. Rocklein and Sanger each singled in two runs.
Seibold got replaced by freshman right-hander Dillon Maya. Maya got welcomed to the party by junior Levi Meyer’s two-run home run: 9-0.
FIU’s only answer would be an Edwin Rios home run in the bottom of the fourth off FAU sophomore middle reliever Bo Logan — one of seven Panther hits all day. Senior starter Jake Meiers got the win.