The story of FIU and Tennessee’s season opener Friday night at FIU Baseball Stadium started, continued and closed with the pitchers.
Starters Cody Crouse of FIU and Bret Marks of Tennessee kept both lineups to one run in the first five innings. Once released from the tyranny of the starters, the bats sang for two innings until Vols reliever Steven Kane threw a pickoff move into foul territory to allow a run to score, giving FIU a 4-3 lead. And, FIU reliever Williams Durruthy turned that into the final score with two bases loaded strikeouts in the ninth inning.
“I just went right after them with fastballs,” Durruthy said. “I love my fastball, I like to throw the fastball, so we stuck to the plan.”
Call that FIU’s Plan B. Plan A was for Robby Kalaf to provide the benediction. But after hitting leadoff hitter Christin Stewart, Kalaf gave up a smashing single up the middle to Nick Senzel. A two-strike bunt foul by Nathaniel Maggio brought up Vincent Jackson. Jackson got intentionally walked after a wild pitch moved runners to second and third.
Durruthy warmed up quickly, no small thing on a night that began at 70 degrees and ended at 56 degrees.
“It was a little cold,” Durruthy said. “They gave us some nice thermals, so it wasn’t too bad.”
The series continues Saturday night at 6 p.m. Ironically, FIU moved the Saturday start times from 4 p.m. not only to give potential fans time to finish their Saturday routines, but also to have them in the stands at a cooler time of day.
Crouse gave up two runs and six hits, struck out six and walked one. But FIU entered the bottom of the sixth inning down 2-0 after getting only one hit in five innings on Marks. Tennesseee’s Peter Lenstrohm relieved Marks. His presence truly seemed to relieve the Panthers.
Leadoff man Jack Schaaf walked. Julius Gaines beat out a bunt. Brian Portelli also beat out a bunt after indecision by first baseman Maggio. A right field fly out by Edwin Rios scored Schaaf and put runners on second and third for Josh Anderson. Last year’s FIU RBI leader singled in two runs and the Panthers led 3-2.