Florida International U

This is the hottest college team in South Florida. And it is not who you think it is

FIU forward Santiago Patino leads Conference USA in goals scored this season.
FIU forward Santiago Patino leads Conference USA in goals scored this season. FIU

The Kentucky Wildcats, who arrived at FIU on Sunday night undefeated and ranked fourth in the nation in men’s soccer, left with a 3-2 loss.

FIU, which made the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, is just 5-6 overall this year but 4-0 in Conference USA. The Panthers are undefeated in 17 consecutive league games, going 14-0-3.

Senior Santiago Patino, FIU’s All-American forward, scored two of FIU’s four goals this week. His goal on Sunday was his 10th this season — which leads Conference USA — and gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead.

“This team shows such much heart,” said Patino, who scored on a header. “We gave it everything we had.”

After Kentucky tied the score, Joris Ahlinvi, who is probably FIU’s second-best player after Patino, scored 1:16 into the second half to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead. FIU’s Matias Barraza, who also had an assist in the game, gave the Panthers a 3-1 lead with what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

FIU coach Kevin Nylen said the win over a highly ranked team such as Kentucky “could have implications in the long run” for the Panthers, who seek to return to the playoffs.

But, like most coaches, Nylen prefers to focus on now rather than later, and the current task for the Panthers is to get ready for Sunday’s match at league rival Charlotte (6-2-1, 2-2).

“Charlotte is probably the most physical team in our league,” Nylen said. “It will be a very difficult game. Our guys have to be ready to battle.”

THIS AND THAT

FIU’s football team was off this past weekend but will play host to Middle Tennessee this coming Saturday. Middle linebacker Sage Lewis leads FIU with 61 stops, and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson tops the Panthers with three quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks.

The volleyball team (12-6, 4-1) had a solid week, beating Louisiana Tech and Bethune-Cook, each in straight sets. The Panthers are 9-1 at home this season. Rice (5-0) leads the league standings, and there are four teams, including FIU, with just one conference loss.

Former FIU right-hander Mike Franco, who turns 27 in November, is inching closer to the major leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays. Franco was dominant in Double A this past season (2.16 ERA, three saves, 0.780 WHIP). At Triple A, he produced a 3.52 ERA and 1.217 WHIP in 29 games.

Former FIU first baseman/outfielder Rudy Flores, who turns 28 in December, just finished his eighth minor-league season, all with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He posted impressive numbers at Double A this past season: 25 doubles, three triples, 17 homers, 17 homers, 75 RBI and a .849 OPS.

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