FIU followed Friday’s four-error season debut with a defensive performance so putrid Saturday that it “can’t be repeated,” one major-league scout said. “It’s not possible.”
But apparently a complete 180 wasn’t out of the question.
After seven more miscues Saturday and 11 combined over the first two games, the Panthers spent Sunday flashing leather in frantic fashion on their way to a 3-0 rubber-game victory over visiting Tennessee.
Four FIU pitchers combined to shut out the Volunteers on four hits, but that number could easily have been doubled without the type of defense FIU coach Turtle Thomas said he expected all along.
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Exceptional infield plays by third baseman Josh Anderson, shortstop Julius Gaines and second baseman Eddie Silva helped starter Chris Mourelle complete five one-hit innings.
Reliever Ian Exposito aided his own cause by stabbing a sharp grounder up the middle in the sixth. Right fielder Brandon Cody robbed Derek Lance of a single with a full-extension diving catch in the eighth. And with the tying run at the plate in the ninth, Anderson pegged a sharp Andrew Plunkett liner to end the game.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” said Mourelle, who earned his first win after collecting nine on his way to becoming the 2014 Conference USA Freshman of the Year. “They were awesome.”
Mourelle retired his first 11 batters, including Lance, who sent a sharp grounder between short and third in the fourth inning. Johnson dove deep into the hole and deflected the ball to Gaines, who was waiting with his backhand. A strong throw from near the outfield grass nabbed Lance by a hair.
“That’s one of those [plays] that should be top 10 in the country,” Thomas said, referencing the daily SportsCenter segment on ESPN.
Mourelle also owes a meal to Silva, whose lunging play up the middle in the fifth saved a run. With two outs and runners on first and third, Silva left his feet to glove a chopper off the bat of A.J. Simcox. Silva dove toward second for the force, tagging the bag with his glove.
The freshman Silva also tripled and scored. J.C. Escarra’s RBI double scored the game’s first run, and Cody drove in another with an RBI walk in the fourth.
FIU travels to Stetson for a single game Wednesday, then to Conway, South Carolina, to compete in a tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina.