Seven run seventh inning seals the deal on FAU's first Sun Belt regular season title
Last year, the Owls found themselves needing some help to reach the Sun Belt conference tournament.
Not this time.
Florida Atlantic (33-20, 21-9) battled back against Sun Belt rival Florida International (31-22, 17-13) on Saturday afternoon game, coming back from a three run deficit, to win 14-10 and claim its first regular season Championship.
Amidst a big turnaround from 2009's campaign, in which the Owls were only 11-18 in conference play, the team finished 21-9 in the Sun Belt while losing only one series.
While FAU claims the number one seed in next week’s tournament, Saturday's win was the determining factor. And it looked to be in doubt on more than one occasion.
FAU trailed three times during the game, but fought back hard and hit their way to the 18th come from behind victory on the year.
“The guys never ever gave up, and I’m proud of them,” said Head Coach John McCormack.
Down 8-5 in the seventh inning with two outs, left fielder Nathan Pittman hit a homerun over the right field wall to tie the game.
“The hit tied it back up, after that, I knew the game was over,” Pittman explained.
“Two-out hits win championships, and that proved true today", said McCormack.
Leadoff man Raymond Church continued the offense driving in an RBI single, which was then followed up by catcher Mike Albaladejo’s RBI double to centerfield. Andy Mee then hit a single up the gap scoring two more; completing a seven run swathing that gave FAU a 12-8 lead they would not relinquish.
Mee then quickly changed gears and entered the game in the top of the eighth in a familiar closer's role.
"I don’t feel pressure, I love the situation and I just go out there and do my thing,” said Mee who currently leads the Sun Belt in saves.
Although the Golden Panthers did manage solo runs in the final two frames, he did his job and recorded the final six outs to clinch the series.
After a homerun by Mike Martinez to start the Panther's ninth inning, Mee struck out Jabari Henry to record the final out.
Mee, an all-conference candidate, secured the victory for relief pitcher Hugh Adams who got the win after taking over for starting pitcher R.J. Alvarez in the seventh.
FIU shortstop Garret Wittels made history off Alvarez, extending his hit streak to 48-games after hitting an RBI double to deep left. Wittels passed Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson’s hitting streak of 47 and now is second all time to Robin Ventura’s 58-game mark.
After Alvarez surrendered a two-run homer to Rudy Flores in a tense sixth inning, he beamed a ball over the head of FIU’s Sean Reilly. A warning was issued to Alvarez, but after retiring the next batter, he made a gesture towards the FIU dugout with fists clinched.
“In a game of this magnitude those kind of things happen, and R.J. lost his composure,” said McCormack.
“I never knew it was that big of a rivalry, but you kind of expect it with the last game of the regular season and everyone fighting for wins”, Mee said about the exchange.
A deep tournament run from FAU appears to be a solid possibility as they draw Western Kentucky, one of two conference opponents the Owls have swept this season, in the first round.
“We have to make sure we take care of business, like I told the guys to keep winning two of three games a series to win a championship,” an excited McCormack said.
The team will return to action on Wednesday against the Hilltoppers.