Florida International U

FIU Panthers outfielder Brian Portelli caps weekend blitz

Whenever an FIU Panther hits a home run, he is greeted at the plate not with a high-five or a head-bump, but a standard handshake. The uniquely understated celebration seems to say “Nice to meet you, Gentleman Slugger.”

Panthers outfielder Brian Portelli is still looking for his first homer of the year, but he spent all weekend introducing himself to Manhattan College all the same. And soon, the whole country might know his name.

“There’s not a day he doesn’t go down to those bating cages at night,“ FIU coach Turtle Thomas said of Portelli, who drove in three momentum-shifting runs in FIU’s 19-5 win Sunday and tortured the Jaspers throughout the weekend series as the Panthers took three of four.

“If you were ever to talk to a group about work ethic, Brian Portelli has work ethic.”

Portelli went 8 for 17 (.470) over a weekend where his seven RBI approached his entire output from a year ago (11). Despite the some of the weekend’s lopsided scores — FIU also won Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader 17-0 — Portelli’s production rarely came in pile-on situations.

The senior drove in runs in each of his first three at-bats in Friday’s 7-2 Panthers victory. He scored and drove in a run in the first inning of Saturday’s Game 1 rout.

And when FIU found itself down 4-0 early Sunday, Portelli catalyzed the comeback with a two-run double in the second and a go-ahead sacrifice fly two innings later.

With FIU threatening and the Jaspers clinging to a 4-3 lead, Manhattan pulled starter Tom Cosgrove before Portelli stepped to the plate. Reliever Rob Vallone’s wild pitch scored the tying run before Portelli put the Panthers ahead. They went on to collect 11 hits and score 14 runs off Jasper relievers.

All of that offense made a winner out of Chris Mourelle, who settled down after a rocky start to throw 6 1/3 innings.

Thomas plucked Portelli out of baseball obscurity while working a winter camp in Detroit as a visiting instructor. Fat chance an unknown out of Division II Grand Rapids Community College would develop into a contributor, never mind a star. But Thomas took that chance anyway.

“Now you got a guy from Detroit who is your third-hole hitter in Miami, Florida,” Thomas said. “That doesn’t happen too often.”

Portelli improved the defensive limitations that made him a part-time player in 2014, when he hit .350 mostly as a DH.

Through 12 games this season Portelli is hitting .370, and his 11 doubles lead the nation.

He tops the Panthers in hits, RBI, total bases and slugging, despite still looking for that first home run and handshake.

“It’s coming,” Portelli said.