FIU baseball coach Mervyl Melendez had a brief conversation with Chris Williams during Friday’s Conference USA opener against Marshall in 42-degree temperatures at windy Huntington, West Virginia.
Williams, a lefty-swinging freshman outfielder, came to FIU this past fall despite being drafted in the 15th round by the Cincinnati Reds. His freshman season got off to a poor start when he suffered a broken thumb on his right hand, and he wasn’t cleared to play until last Tuesday.
On Friday, he struck out in his second college at-bat, and that’s when Melendez thought about removing him.
“I have a pinch-hitter ready,” Melendez told Williams in the 10thinning of a game that was scoreless at that time. “Can you handle this pitcher?”
Williams responded by telling his coach: “I’ve got this — no problem.”
Williams was right. On a 0-1 pitch, he pulled a line drive down the right-field line that resulted in a three-run homer and a 3-0 win over Marshall.
It was the biggest play of the week for FIU (10-9 overall, 1-2 C-USA). The Panthers lost three of four games, but there were bright spots other than Williams:
▪ FIU has found a pitching ace in lefty Logan Allen, who was pretty good as a freshman (5-5, 3.89 ERA, team-leading 85 strikeouts) but has exploded as a sophomore. He has not allowed a run in four consecutive starts, a streak that stands at 23 innings.
FIU is 4-0 in those starts against South Dakota State, Jacksonville State, Seton Hall and Marshall, and Allen has struck out 41 batters in those 23 innings, allowing just nine hits and eight walks.
For the season, Allen (2-1) leads the league in strikeouts (50) and batting average allowed (.138), ranking second in ERA (0.96).
Allen is chasing Evan Thomas, who holds FIU’s single-season record for ERA at 1.70 (minimum 100 innings). Thomas also has the school record for strikeouts per nine innings (13.51), a mark Allen is also on pace to break.
▪ Senior outfielder Lorenzo Hampton leads FIU in batting average (.371, eighth in the league), OPS (1.039), doubles (seven, fifth) and slugging percentage (.614, fifth).
▪ Junior catcher Javi Valdes leads FIU in on-base percentage (.477, fourth in the. league) and is second in OPS (1.019).
FIU visits Florida State on Wednesday — a major opportunity for the Panthers to spring an upset.
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU’s men’s basketball team on Sunday accepted a bid to the CollegeInsider.com tournament (CIT). FIU (19-13) will visit the Sun Belt Conference’s Texas State (24-9) on Saturday.
The 32-team CIT is not the 68-team NCAA Tournament. It’s not even the 32-team NIT. The CIT, geared toward mid-major schools, is on the third or fourth tier, along with the College Basketball Invitational.
Still, this is FIU’s first postseason bid since 1995 and just its second in program history — a major credit to first-year coach Jeremy Ballard.
▪ = FIU’s women’s tennis team (10-4) has won nine straight matches. But the softball team (17-12) is on a five-game losing streak.