Florida International U

FIU baseball team underachieves, but there’s still time to make Conference USA tournament

Florida International University’s third baseman Austin Shenton (6) is greeted by teammates after hitting a home run in third inning as FIU hosts the University of Miami at FIU Baseball Stadium on Wednesday, February 27, 2019.
Florida International University’s third baseman Austin Shenton (6) is greeted by teammates after hitting a home run in third inning as FIU hosts the University of Miami at FIU Baseball Stadium on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. adiaz@miamiherald.com

While there have been some individual highlights, FIU’s baseball team has not had a strong season so far and is in jeopardy of not making the Conference USA tournament.

Out of 12 teams in the league, eight qualify for the tournament, and FIU is next to last place with two weeks remaining.

Coach Mervyl Melendez remains positive that FIU — which is 20-27 overall and 9-15 in league play — can turn things around. But he’s not hiding from the truth.

“It’s disappointing,” said Melendez, who is in his third year at FIU. “As a coach, you always think you’re going to do well. I’m disappointed in our record and in some of the games I think we could’ve [won].

“But I know the process takes long. I’m not a patient person, but I knew we needed to change the culture, and we have.”

FIU finished 31-27 and 15-15 in league play in Melendez’s first year. It has been trending down since then, however, with a 26-28 and 15-13 record last year.

This season, there are eight games left on the schedule, starting with Tuesday’s trip to Texas Tech. The key will be the six conference games remaining — weekend series at Middle Tennessee and home for Louisiana Tech.

Sophomore Christian Santana is a good example of FIU’s inconsistent play. He’s talented — he was the Milwaukee Brewers’ 15th-round pick in 2017 out of Plantation American Heritage — but he’s just 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in 11 appearances this season.

However, he was named C-USA Pitcher of the Week on Monday, once again showing his potential. He pitched eight scoreless innings against Bethune-Cookman last week, striking out a career-high 10 batters.

“Christian has worked on his delivery,” Melendez said of Santana, who retired 15 consecutive Bethune-Cookman batters in the middle innings. “He got some things cleaned up, and that’s big for him and us.”

FIU’s best hitter is junior third baseman Austin Shenton, who is projected to go in the top three rounds in next month’s MLB Draft.

Despite battling a hamstring strain that forced him to sit out Sunday’s game, Shenton has one of the longest active hit streaks in the nation at 19 games. It’s the longest FIU hit streak since the Panthers joined Conference USA in 2013.

Shenton is tied for 12th in the league with a .341 batting average, and he’s sixth in the conference with 45 RBI.

“Austin got off to a slow start this season,” Melendez said. “I think he was trying to justify his draft status, which he didn’t need to do.”

Shenton turned things around in April, batting .490 with 20 RBI for the month.

Similarly, FIU catcher Jose Garcia — who is fifth in the league with 11 homers — was “overswinging” early this season, but he got hot in April, hitting eight homers.

FIU’s ace is Logan Allen, who leads the league with 101 strikeouts and ranks fourth in ERA (3.09). Batters are hitting just .237 against him, which ranks sixth in the league.

THIS AND THAT

FIU’s men’s basketball team last week signed a pair of wings who each have two years of eligibility left: Eric Lovett, a 6-5, 200-pounder from Georgia and Blake Furcron; a 6-4, 175-pounder from Michigan.

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