No offense to the Stony Brooks, Manhattans and Rutgerses, FIU baseball’s early schedule the past two years brought in sparring partners for the Panthers to knock around.
No sparring partners this year, but rather Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Danny Garcia, starting with Friday’s three-game series opener against Tennessee.
Among the five polls recognized by the NCAA, Tennessee is ranked as high as No. 25 (D1Baseball.com) and received votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll. So did Georgia Tech, which FIU faces Feb. 20 in its Coastal Carolina Tournament opener. Coastal Carolina got votes in the Collegiate Baseball poll that puts Georgia Tech at No. 26 and Tennessee at No. 33.
FIU comes into the season with some respect, too. The Panthers got votes in the Collegiate Baseball and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association polls despite large roster changes that leave players and coaches unsure how good they are.
“It’s going to be a test with us,” senior third baseman Josh Anderson said. “I’m glad we’re opening up with that, so we’re not playing softer competition and then getting into the harder stuff. We’ll get a measure of where we’re at. I think we’re ready.”
Sophomore pitcher Chris Mourelle said, “If we can take this series, it’ll boost our confidence a bit.”
Sophomore Cody Crouse gets the first shot at locking down the role of Friday night starter/staff ace. Freshman Garret Cave starts Saturday. Last year’s Conference USA Freshman of the Year, Chris Mourelle, starts Sunday.
“He doesn’t get rattled easily,” FIU coach Turtle Thomas said of Crouse. “He’s a solid guy. No matter what the situation. He’s going to throw his best stuff in there and let the chips fall where they may.”
Thursday, Crouse admitted, “To be honest, I’m a bit nervous. I’m more excited than anything. I wanted to be that guy since last year, I worked to get the job. Now, I’ve got to go out and prove it.”
Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said during his Monday media session that senior right-hander Bret Marks would start for the Volunteers this Friday with probable ace Andy Cox being rested.
“They’ve got really good arms coming back,” Serrano said of FIU on Monday. “They had turnover in their position players, but we’re going to see some really good arms. We’re going to see SEC arms out of the gate from FIU.”
Friday-Sunday: FIU vs. Tennessee
When/where: Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday 1, p.m.; FIU Baseball Stadium, FIU main campus, 11491 SW 17th St.
2014 records: Tennessee 31-23; FIU 36-20.
Matchups: Friday — Tennessee Sr. RHP Bret Marks vs. FIU So. RHP Cody Crouse; Saturday — Tennessee Jr. LHP Drake Owenby Jr. vs. FIU Fr. RHP Garrett Cave; Sunday — Tennessee So. RHP Kyle Serrano vs. FIU So. RHP Chris Mourelle.