CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Visiting Florida International, ranked 21st in the country, pounded out a combined 17 runs on 29 hits to sweep a Conference USA Saturday doubleheader over Charlotte by the scores of 7-0 and 10-4. A pair of strong pitching performances from game one starter Mike Franco and game two reliever Cody Crouse led the Panthers to their first two league victories.
GAME ONE: #21 FIU 7, Charlotte 0
FIU broke up a scoreless ballgame in the fourth tallying the game’s first run to grab a 1-0 lead. Roche Woodard slapped a one out double to left-center before moving up to third on a Ryan Butler wild pitch. Tyler Hibbert followed sending his base hit to the opposite field in left to easily score Woodard from third.
The Panthers two more runs in the sixth to take a 3-0 lead. Josh Anderson started the inning by reaching on a Charlotte fielding error at third. After Edwin Rios walked to push Anderson to second, Zach Sweety laid down a bunt and beat out the throw to first turning it into an infield single, loading the bases for J.C. Escarra. Escarra then lined a single into right-center to score Anderson and Rios for the three-run advantage. Butler was able to minimize the damage by striking out L.K. Thompson and getting a double play ball out of Woodard to retire the side.
FIU opened game one up with a four-run eighth cruising to their 7-0 victory. Anderson and Rios started with a pair of singles before Sweety dropped down the Panthers second successful bunt single of the game to again load the bases. On Sweety’s base hit, the throw from third went array as Anderson scored on the play. Gunnar McNeill picked up a RBI single to center in his pinch-hit at bat while Hibbert broke things open with his two-run double to right.
The best offensive threat for the Niners came in the fourth as Mikal Hill picked up a one-out infield single to short while Des Roberts delivered a two-out single to left-center. Brett Lang would strikeout in between the two hits while Logan Sherer went down on strikes to end the inning.
Franco (3-0) was spectacular in his five-hit shutout going the distance with a walk and six strikeouts stifling the Charlotte offense. Franco only allowed the leadoff man to reach twice and only let the Niners record two hits in the same inning twice.
Anderson led the Panthers with a 3-for-5 outing in the opener with a pair of runs scored. Hibbert, Rios and Sweety each collected a pair of hits as Charlotte allowed a season-high 15 in the loss. Logan Sherer had the only multi-hit game for the Niners as Charlotte was blanked for the first time in 2014.
GAME TWO: #21 FIU 10, Charlotte 4
Hibbert and the Panthers didn’t waste any time continuing their offensive outburst as the centerfield took the second pitch of the game from Charlotte starter Corey Roberts sending it over the wall in right for a 1-0 lead. Four pitches later with one out, Aramis Garcia belted a solo shot to left for a 2-0 lead. With Anderson at third after his double and groundout by Rios, Sweety would drop down a bunt and beat the throw to first allowing Anderson to score for the three-run start.
Charlotte snapped a 16-inning scoreless draught in the bottom of the first getting one of those runs back for a 3-1 contest. Derek Gallello and T.J. Nichting started with back-to-back singles before a Hill walk loaded the bases. Sherer would follow bouncing into a double play, allowing Gallello to score cut the FIU lead down to two.
Immediately in the 2nd, the Panthers put four more on the board to take a 7-1 lead. An Antonio Rodriguez walk started things off before a single by Woodard and base hit by Hibbert brought Rodriguez around with the first of four runs. Julius Gaines plated Woodard with a groundout to first before Garcia came up and crushed his second homer of the contest, a two-run blast to left for a six-run FIU lead.
Not to be out-done, Charlotte came right back with three in their half of the second to slice the FIU lead down to 7-4. Lang and Brad Elwood started with back-to-back free passes before the Niners jumped on an extra opportunity thanks to a Panther error at third. Eric Eason sent the groundball past Anderson at third to score Lang with the first of the three runs. Gallello followed with a ground out to second that scored Elwood before Nichting doubled home Eason.
FIU added one more in the top of the third before each team went scoreless in their next at-bats. A Sweety one out walk paid off as Woodard delivered another RBI single for an 8-4 lead. The Panthers proceeded to add two more in the sixth as Rios laced a two-run single to center scoring Garcia and Gaines.
After Charlotte knocked out FIU’s game two starter Mike Ellis after 1.2 innings, freshman right hander Cody Crouse came in to toss the next 6.1 innings and was perfect in his outing. Crouse retired all 19 batters he faced in order using six strikeouts.
“We did some good things in spurts that were pretty good, but not enough against a top-25 team today,” remarked Head Coach Loren Hibbs afterwards. “We really haven’t found our rhythm at all. We’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to keep working, showing up, and running the guys out there that we feel like give us the best chance to win and keep making changes and adjustments until we find the right combination.”
After a long Saturday, both teams will have less than 24 hours to prepare for Sunday’s series-finale beginning at 1:00 p.m. Charlotte will send RHP Brock Hudgens (0-0, 2.45) to the mound while the Panthers will counter with RHP Robby Kalaf (1-0, 1.00).
Tickets for the series-finale are available by contacting the Charlotte 49ers ticket office at 704-687-4949. The Hayes Stadium box office will also open an hour before game time. Live stats/video will be available through http://www.charlotte49ers.com with live, in-game updates via Twitter following @Charlotte49ers and @49erGameDay.
· All hit streaks came to an end on Saturday thanks in part to the arms of the FIU pitching staff. Brett Lang’s ends at 14 after a hit in game one while Brad Elwood’s ends at eight. T.J. Nichting saw his streak come to an end at seven but started a new streak going 2-for-4 in game two. Mikal Hill and Des Roberts each extended theirs to six and three after game one, but saw them snapped in game two.