FIU came into Friday night’s Coral Gables Regional game against the University of Miami having beaten four teams in a row.
Make it five — the fifth team being FIU.
Ten Hurricanes batters into FIU’s 6-2 loss, the Panthers allowed one legitimate UM hit, hit two UM batters, committed three errors and trailed 4-0.
With eight innings left to satisfy the minimum for a dry-weather college baseball playoff game, the NCAA could have sent the sellout crowd home and let the teams get a good chunk of sleepy time before Saturday’s games. Hurricanes starter Andy Suarez looked like the boss, partially because the Panthers made him work about as hard as the boss’ son — five pitches in the first inning, 51 over the first five innings.
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FIU (29-30) faces East Carolina, whom the Panthers swept during their first Conference USA season, at 1 p.m. Saturday in a loser-goes-home game. On Friday, for the first two innings, the Panthers looked like the erratic team they were before rolling through the Conference USA tournament to get into the NCAA tournament.
After complimenting Suarez, FIU coach Turtle Thomas said: “I think our guys were a little bit tentative, nervous to begin with. As I’ve told them, you can lose a baseball game in the first inning, the fifth inning, the seventh, the ninth, the 12th, whatever it might be. One of our goals [Friday] was to start fast pitching- and hitting-wise. It just so happened we didn’t do that.”
Instead, on UM leadoff hitter Ricky Eusebio’s grounder up the middle, shortstop Julius Gaines’ throw skidded wide of first base after Gaines coolly glided over as if on ice to make the pickup. The official scoring generously gave a hit to Eusebio, who moved to second on Gaines’ throwing error.
Eusebio moved to third on a groundout and got a good jump for home on another grounder to Gaines by George Iskenderian. Gaines didn’t hesitate to go home with it and got the throw there, but well beyond catcher Zack Soria’s vertical leap.
The run seemed to shake up freshman starter Andres Nunez, who put three of the next four batters on base with two walks and a hit batter. The remaining batter in that quartet, national RBI leader David Thompson, did his usual thing with a two-run double down the line.
After Nunez hit Brandon Lopez, senior shortstop Gaines approached the mound for a quick word with the freshman pitcher.
“I just told him not to let my mistakes and not handling my side of everything affect him,” Gaines said. “Those first few batters, he was throwing really well. I felt like we shouldn’t been out of that inning before everything got big. I was trying to tell him to keep throwing it and don’t change anything.”
Nunez got the third out but opened the next inning by hitting Eusebio. A .988 fielder, junior first baseman Edwin Rios flat dropped a pickoff throw during Christopher Barr’s at-bat. Barr struck out and reached base on a wild pitch that got away from Soria. Two singles later, the Hurricanes had all the runs they would need.
Thomas credited Barr for saving a few runs for the Hurricanes, which he particularly did in the FIU eighth on two hard hits down the line that turned into outs instead of singles or doubles.