On Friday night, FIU and Rice co-produced an epic drama. On Saturday afternoon at FIU Baseball Stadium, there was no drama and only Rice could laugh at the comedy, especially in the fourth inning.
Rice put up four runs in that fourth after four in the third, then finished handing FIU a 10-2 loss Saturday that resembled Friday’s 3-2, 13-inning game only in having the same winner.
“Seemed like the first game results at the end of the game affected [Saturday],” FIU coach Turtle Thomas said. “We talked about no hangover, put it behind you, learn from it, move on to the next day. It didn’t seem like we did that very well.”
The series closes with a game at 11 a.m. Sunday. FIU will send junior right-hander Robby Kalaf (2-0, 0.56 ERA) out against Rice right-handed sophomore Kevin McCanna (1-2, 3.91).
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Only in their three losses has FIU (16-3, 3-2 Conference USA) been held to less than five runs. On Saturday, Rice sophomore Blake Fox, a 6-4 left-hander, pitched brilliantly with men on base to give FIU only a two-run return on its 10 hits.
FIU, as it often does, scored first. Not in the first inning, where it has knocked across 28 runs this season, but in the second. Singles to center (freshman Brandon Gomez), left (freshman Gunnar McNeill) and right (junior Brian Portelli) loaded the bases with one out. Junior Roche Woodard’s grounder to second could have been an inning-ending double play if not for Woodard’s speed, allowing Gomez’s run to count.
In the top of the third, two walks and a single loaded the bases for Rice. John Clay Reeves’ double to left field scored two. Chase McDowell did the same with a double down the first-base line. That ended FIU starter Mike Ellis’ day.
A 4-1 deficit to a team like Rice (14-6, 4-1), No. 19 in the USA Today/ESPN Baseball Coaches Top 25 poll, doesn’t need help to turn into a bad ending. But that’s just what FIU did in the fourth.
First, McNeill bobbled a bouncer just long enough for Rice’s Michael Aquino to beat McNeill’s flip to pitcher Cody Crouse. After Crouse walked Charlie Warren, he fielded Leon Byrd’s bunt and fired high to McNeill. The ball glanced off McNeill’s glove. Two runs scored by the time the ball came back into the infield.
A hard grounder from Rice’s Keenan Cook ricocheted off FIU second baseman Edwin Rios’ glove. A wild pitch brought in Byrd, and Skyler Ewing’s deep fly out brought in Cook. FIU trailed 8-1, and the game was essentially over.