The FIU baseball team, which entered this week leading the nation with a 1.94 ERA, is hosting its final home series of the season this weekend against Middle Tennessee State.
The next couple of weeks also represents FIU’s final push toward its goal of reaching the NCAA tournament.
Last season, just one Conference USA team — Rice — made the tournament. This season, Rice, ranked 14th in the nation, is a lock to return, and FIU coach Turtle Thomas thinks the conference could get two or three more teams in the tournament.
FIU entered the weekend tied for fourth in Conference USA with a 14-10 league record.
Junior Mike Franco,
FIU’s top starter, is a candidate for the league’s Pitcher of the Year award. He improved from a 5.23 ERA last season — when he was coming off Tommy John surgery — to 8-2 and 0.96 entering the weekend.
He is fourth in the nation in ERA and the only Conference USA player to make the 30-man Golden Spikes watch list, an award given to the nation’s top amateur baseball player.
The rest of FIU’s rotation includes Chris Mourelle (8-2, 1.76); Cody Crouse (4-2, 1.55); and Mike Ellis (5-3, 2.72).
Mike Gomez, a senior from Miami Braddock, recently set the school record with 25 saves, including eight this season. The top setup reliever is Mitchell Davis (21 appearances, 0.98 ERA).
FIU also leads the conference in batting average (.294) and runs scored but is middle-of-the-pack in fielding percentage.
A concern is the oblique-muscle injury sustained by junior catcher Aramis Garcia, who leads the team in hitting (.353) and homers (seven). He got injured swinging the bat and had missed five games heading into Friday.
Fortunately for FIU, J.C. Escarra, a talented freshman from Hialeah’s Mater Academy, has done a solid job in Garcia’s absence.
“J.C. is the heir apparent [at catcher] anyway,” Thomas said. “He has made the transformation from third base [in high school] to catcher really well.”
Thomas said he believes FIU should have a better league record than what they have posted so far.
“There are times we just didn’t score,” he said. “But it’s a good league, especially deep in pitching.”
Because of David Thompson’s injury, the Canes’ baseball team has started five different third basemen, including Brad Fieger, Johnny Ruiz, Laz Rivera and Edgar Michelangeli.
Overall, the Canes have given 15 hitters at least five starts this season. For the past three years, the Canes have had 13 hitters with five or more starts.
But despite going that deep into their bench — or maybe because of it — the Canes are having a big season, ranking eighth in the nation by Baseball America.
The Canes are hoping to make the College World Series for the first time since 2008.
The NCAA Division II national championships in various spring sports are set for May 14-17, and Barry is the only school in the country to qualify its men’s and women’s tennis and men’s and women’s golf teams.
These teams didn’t just qualify — they are serious contenders.
Barry’s women’s tennis and the men’s golf teams are ranked No. 1 in the nation. The women’s golf team is ranked second. And the men’s tennis team is ranked third, but it is also defending national champions. The men’s golf team is also the defending national champion.
The softball team, seeded sixth, won four games in a row to earn the Sun Conference championship, gaining automatic entry to the NAIA playoffs to be played Monday through Wednesday at a site to be determined.