State Colleges

FIU is catching up to UM in baseball and women’s tennis

The Panthers rush the field after FIU pinch-runner Kolby Follis (14) slides home to score around Miami catcher Joe Gomez (40) in the bottom of the ninth inning to give FIU a 3-2 victory over the University of Miami. FIU's Nick Day's two-base sacrifice fly deep to center drove home Folli at FIU Baseball Stadium University Park on Wed., March 8, 2017.
The Panthers rush the field after FIU pinch-runner Kolby Follis (14) slides home to score around Miami catcher Joe Gomez (40) in the bottom of the ninth inning to give FIU a 3-2 victory over the University of Miami. FIU's Nick Day's two-base sacrifice fly deep to center drove home Folli at FIU Baseball Stadium University Park on Wed., March 8, 2017. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The Miami Hurricanes athletics program has had far more success, historically and currently, than its local Division I counterpart, the FIU Panthers.

Few would argue that.

Just one example would be basketball, where Miami’s men’s and women’s programs both made the NCAA Tournament this year while FIU struggled to a combined record of 12-48.

However, baseball and women’s tennis are two examples of sports in which FIU has made inroads against UM this year.

FIU’s baseball team defeated UM both times they have played this season by a combined score of 15-3.

Beyond that, new FIU coach Mervyl Melendez has created a national stir with his recruiting prowess, while the Canes are struggling on the field, entering this weekend with a losing record and the worst batting average in the Atlantic Coast Conference (.209).

It will be interesting to see what happens when the Panthers and Canes conclude their 2017 season series, April 25 at FIU and April 26 in Coral Gables.

Meanwhile, FIU’s women’s tennis team on Saturday won its 16th consecutive match, the second-longest streak in program history, defeating Central Florida 4-0. It was the 12th shutout of the season for 17-1 FIU, which is ranked 30th in the nation.

The top singles player for FIU is Andrea Lazaro, a 5-7 sophomore from Spain. She’s ranked 41st nationally.

Things are not so great at the moment for the Canes in women’s tennis, and that is highly unusual because this has been one of the best programs in the country for more than a decade.

In fact, UM has advanced to the Sweet 16 for 11 consecutive years and finished in the top 15 in the final national poll for 13 seasons in a row. UM went 21-6 overall and 12-2 in the ACC last year.

This year, UM is ranked 45th in the nation — 15 spots below FIU — and the Canes had a five-match losing streak before defeating Florida Atlantic on Friday.

UM (5-9, 3-5) has more losses than it has experienced in any year in recent memory.

Injuries have been a key factor this year for the Canes, who lost Yolimar Ogando for the second year in a row to a pair of ACL knee injuries. The Canes lost Ogando one week before the start of this season.

In addition, Canes senior Maci Epstein has been battling a significant wrist injury, even though she somehow managed to earn singles and doubles wins on Friday at FAU.

“She’s only hitting backhands,” Canes coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said, “and she still won, which is incredible.”

But the most significant problem for UM has been a foot injury that has sidelined Sinead Lohan the past two weeks.

Lohan, a junior from Ireland, went 40-6 last season and advanced to the NCAA semifinals. This season, she is just 17-11, although the good news for UM is that Lohan could return from injury this week.

Indeed, Yaroshuk-Tews, who has a brilliant 311-100 record in 16 years as UM’s coach, has kept a positive attitude with six matches remaining, all against ACC opponents.

“It’s been a little bit humbling, but I’m proud of our tenacity,” said Yaroshuk-Tews, who added that she doesn’t think she has ever had five losses in a row before. “I don’t want to make excuses. Our goal is to win out and make the NCAA tournament.”

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