Closer Frankie Bartow stared into the Panthers’ dugout immediately after fanning the final batter of the University of Miami’s 8-7 victory Tuesday at FIU Stadium. His gaze prompted Panthers players to jump off the bench and rush the field, before being held back.
“I was just thinking, it was a tough game and I just wanted to get the team fired up,” Bartow said after earning the save. “The season starts tomorrow now. We are .500 and .500 in the ACC. I was just thinking of a way to fire up the team and get us ready. That’s what we need. We go to Miami. People are going to hate us. We need to act like they hate us. We just need to go out there and play hard everyday.”
“Whatever happened at the end of the game, I did that for the team.”
The intra-city baseball clash didn’t have an ending baseball purists would applaud, but it did end a drought for the Hurricanes.
UM hadn’t earned a regular season win against the Panthers in more than nine years before Tuesday’s triumph. Its last came in April 2008.
Sophomore second baseman Romy Gonzalez scored the game-winning run on a passed ball in the top of a sloppily played ninth inning.
After a scoreless first frame, the Hurricanes (20-20, 10-10 ACC) got into Panthers starter Robert Garcia with two outs in the top of the second. The worst hitting team in the ACC (.212) started the rally behind catcher Joe Gomez.
“We are friends outside the field but when we step on the field we are going to be enemies,” Bartow said. “I have friends on that team but I didn’t really care at that moment.”
Gomez swatted an RBI single to the opposite field and left fielder James Davison followed with an RBI single up the middle to give the Canes a 2-0 advantage. Shortstop Rand Batista left the biggest mark of the inning, spraying a two-run single to right field.
Kobe Lopez helped the Panthers (25-17, 10-8 Conference USA) cut into the lead in the bottom of the inning with a two-run double off of Canes starter Evan McKendry to make the score 4-2.
Zach Soria scored the Panthers’ third run in the bottom of the third inning after jetting in from second base on a fielding error. Javier Valdes then smoked a single to left to tie the score at 4-4 with two outs.
Garcia escaped a bases loaded situation in the top of the fourth inning by striking out Batista swinging.
Canes center fielder Carl Chester put his team on top 5-4 in the top of the fifth frame when he scored on a fielder’s choice. But the Panthers answered again in the bottom of the inning on a Valdes sacrifice fly to right. Garcia stepped off the mound after giving up five earned runs and five hits, while striking out four in 4.1 innings. McKendry was chased after allowing a career-high seven hits and five runs (two earned) and striking out three in 4.1 innings.
Panthers first baseman J.C. Escarra put in his hack in the bottom of the sixth stanza. The junior drilled a liner into the left infield dirt that the shortstop couldn’t handle, resulting in two Panthers runs and a 7-5 edge for the home squad. The Canes tied it up again in the top of the seventh frame, scoring two runs on a throwing error.
“This morning I counted that we lost 13 games by three runs or less,” said Canes pitcher Andrew Cabezas, who earned the win after allowing one hit in two innings. “So it’s a lot of frustration and seeing how the game went back and forth. And we were just battling. That’s what Frankie and all of us are. We just battle. You just see the emotions until the last out.”
The Canes are winners of five of their last six contests. The Panthers rank No. 5 in C-USA, while the Canes sit at third in the ACC Coastal.
Dominic LoBrutto (1-2) took the loss for the Panthers. Gomez was 2-for-4 with 2 RBI in the win. Davison was also 2-for-4 and had an RBI for the Canes. Soria was 4-for-4 for the Panthers. Escarra was 2-for-4 with two RBI in the loss. Both teams had 10 hits in the contest.
Before Tuesday, the Canes last beat Panthers on March 29, 2015 in the Coral Gables regional.
FIU and UM take the field again Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Mark Light Field.