David Miranda’s bases-clearing hit in the bottom of the eighth inning snapped a tie and gave the third-seeded Owls (37-15-1) a victory in a twice-delayed opening game of the 2018 Conference USA Baseball Championship.
The game began at 10:10 a.m. and did not finish until 5:43 p.m. because of two weather/lightning delays that totaled 3 hours, 14 minutes.
The teams combined to use a dozen pitchers, including new arms after each delay.
“That was unbelievable, by both teams,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “To play and sit, play and sit, play and sit, both teams used a ton of pitching, and every time we took the lead, they would come right back with some huge home runs.”
Sixth-seeded FIU (26-27) did just that in the top of the eighth-inning on right fielder Adan Fernandez’ 10th home run of the season, a leadoff shot that tied the game 4-4.
But FAU loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the inning off the Panthers’ sixth pitcher, reliever Greyson Fletcher (0-2), on a single and two walks.
Miranda, a first-team All-Conference outfielder, followed with a line shot just inside the first-base bag into the right-field corner that scored Andru Summerall, Cody Wilson and Tyler Frank. The hit went for a single as Miranda pulled up on a gimpy leg after rounding first base.
“I think that’s the first time in my career that I had three RBIs on a single,” said Miranda, who was obviously limping postgame.
The hit made a winner of FAU reliever Jordan Poore (2-1), who allowed a run on four hits in two innings. Zach Schenider, a first-team all-conference selection, came on and allowed only a hit in the ninth inning to pick up his league-leading 14th save.
FIU outhit their intrastate rivals 14 to eight, including Panthers leadoff man Derek Cartaya’s four singles and a double. Cartaya became the ninth player with five hits in a conference tournament game, with former Louisiana Tech standout Raphael Gladu most recently turning the trick against Charlotte in 2016.
Fernandez had two singles to go with his homer, while second baseman Eddie Silva slugged his conference-leading 16th home run and a double.
FIU coach Mervyl Melendez was disappointed in how the game played out.
“It’s a tough one, for sure,” Melendez said. “You got a lightning delay, and then they put you back on the field, and 30 minutes later, you get another delay. It’s not what you want, not when you’re trying to compete for a championship.”
FIU designated hitter Jose Garcia gave FIU a 1-0 lead in the second inning when he walked went to second on Fernandez’ single and scored on an error.
FAU took a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning when Wilson and Frank walked with one out and scored on a two-out, two-run double by left fielder Eric Rivera.
FIU tied the game 2-2 when Silva led off the sixth inning with a home run, but the Owls regained the lead in the bottom of the inning when designated hitter Jared DeSantolo doubled with one out and scored on Wilson’s two-out single.
The Panthers tied the score 3-3 when Cartaya singled and came around on singles by first baseman Logan Allen and third baseman Austin Shenton.
Again, the Panthers tied the score on Fernandez shot to left-center field in the top of the eighth inning before Miranda came through in the bottom of the inning for the Owls.
Miranda, Rivera and Wilson had two hits each for FAU.
The Owls are scheduled to play the winner of Wednesday’s second game between second-seeded Louisiana Tech and seventh seeded Rice at 5 p.m. Thursday.