RUSTON, La. (April 11, 2014) – Louisiana Tech held an early 2-0 lead over FIU in the series opener, but the Panthers responded by scoring seven unanswered runs from the third inning on for a 7-2 victory over the Bulldogs Friday night at J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
LA Tech (9-22, 3-13 C-USA) put up two runs in the first two innings of play, but FIU (25-9, 9-7 C-USA) answered back in the third by scoring three runs on just one hit, while also taking advantage of a Bulldog error, for a 3-2 lead. The Panthers continued to tack on runs in the fifth, seventh and ninth innings to complete the victory and give the Bulldogs their eighth straight loss.
“(Mike) Franco was probably as good of a pitcher that we have faced this year,” head coach Wade Simoneaux said. “Our guys are battling, but it is hard to get it done when you have four hits and score two runs. We have to continue to put the pressure on other teams and we have to keep fighting, but our guys won’t quit.”
Mike Franco (5-2) earned the win for the Panthers after settling down as the game continued to give up just four hits and notch his second complete game of the season. Franco allowed two runs – one unearned – in the first and second innings before holding Tech scoreless for the next seven innings, including a stretch where he retired 16 consecutive Bulldog hitters from the fourth inning to the ninth.
Phil Maton (2-5) was charged with the loss after giving up five runs – three earned – on five hits in seven innings in relief of starter Austin Greer. Greer gave up two runs – one earned – on three hits in two innings of work. Despite the loss, Maton struck out a season-high nine batters on the night, which makes him one strikeout shy of cracking the Top 10 for career strikeouts in LA Tech history. The junior right-hander now has 217 career strikeouts.
With one out in the first inning, Ryan Jones and Colby Johnson reached base on back-to-back errors by FIU to give Tech runners on first and second. Tyler Ervine came through for the Bulldogs with an RBI single to score Jones and give Tech a 1-0 lead after one inning of play.
In the second, Steven Blanchard drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Simoneaux to give the Bulldogs a runner in scoring position. It was then Bre’shon Kimbell’s turn to come through with the timely hit, as the junior right fielder singled to center field for an RBI and a 2-0 advantage.
After FIU had the first two guys reach base in the third inning, Maton came on in relief to face Tyler Hibbert, who reached base on a throwing error by Maton on an attempt at a sacrifice bunt. Julius Gaines, who was on second at the time, came around to score on the overthrow to cut Tech’s lead to one. A sacrifice fly by Zach Sweety tied the game at 2-2 before Aramis Garcia made it 3-2 in favor of FIU with another sacrifice fly later that inning.
A solo homer to left field by Garcia in the fifth made it 4-2 in favor of the Panthers, but it was two runs in the seventh that put the game out of reach. With one out in the inning, J.C. Escarra doubled to left field and then advanced to third on an error by Ervine to give FIU two runners on base. Garcia was intentionally walked to bring up Josh Anderson, who had a two RBI infield single to stretch FIU’s lead to 6-2 over Tech.
The Panthers tacked on one more run in the ninth on another RBI single by Robinson to make it 7-2 and complete their scoring for the night. FIU scored seven runs – four earned – on eight hits, while the Bulldogs plated just two runs on four hits in the loss.
The Bulldogs had their best chance to regain the lead in the bottom of the fourth after Tyler Qualls and Stephen Gandy led off the inning with base hits, followed by an error on a bunt by Blanchard to load the bases with no outs. Thomas Simoneaux then attempted a safety squeeze bunt, which turned into a double play for the Panthers, who threw out Qualls at the plate and Simoneaux at first to end the threat.
Both Ervine and Kimbell had one hit apiece to go along with an RBI for the Bulldogs’ two runs on the night. Qualls and Gandy added the final two hits for a total of four base knocks by Tech in the series opener.
Anderson led the Panthers with a 2-for-5 performance at the plate with three RBI to help give FIU the victory.
The series resumes at 3 p.m. Saturday with left-hander Jared Keating scheduled to start on the mound for the Bulldogs. FIU will counter with right-hander Cody Crouse.
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