BASEBALL: Tops’ ‘soft’ performance leads to 10th-inning loss to FIU

If winners sacrifice more than their opponents, then it should come as no surprise that Florida International knocked off Western in 10 innings Friday night.

The Golden Panthers (23-14, 9-6 Sun Belt Conference) scored three times off sacrifice fly balls — including the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning — to successfully dispatch the host Toppers by a 7-6 score.

A displeased Head Coach Chris Finwood said that outside of senior pitcher Matt Ridings’ performance, the Toppers played as bad as they could in every phase of the game.

“It was probably as soft of a mental approach as I’ve seen this group have,” Finwood said. “It’s like we just didn’t want to win, which is beyond me. But we’ve got to grow up, and we’ve got to toughen up and decide we want to win some of these games.”

Western (28-14, 9-7 Sun Belt) allowed the tying run in the ninth inning and two runs in the top of the 10th inning. The Toppers rallied in the bottom half of the 10th, with sophomore shortstop Logan Robbins singling home sophomore third baseman Casey Dykes, but junior catcher Matt Rice’s popup to right field ended the game and stranded three runners.

Ridings pitched eight innings before being relieved by sophomore pitcher Rye Davis. When he left the game, Western led FIU 5-4.

The game went down as a no decision for Ridings.

“I feel just as bad as if I had gone out there and given up 15 runs in two innings,” Ridings said. “It wasn’t up to me, but it always hurts no matter what the situation is when you get a loss.”

The Golden Panthers capitalized on a Robbins error — one of three on the night — in the top of the second inning, going up 3-0 after FIU sophomore second baseman Garrett Wittels drove home two runs with his first triple of the 2010 season.

Down 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning, the Toppers had a chance to rally after sophomore center fielder Kes Carter scored sophomore right fielder Jared Andreoli. Instead, senior first baseman Jake Wells popped out with the bases loaded to end the third.

It was in the fifth inning that Wells redeemed himself. He hit a three-run home run to give the Toppers a 4-3 advantage and Ridings some run support.

Wells said he didn’t hone in on one thing FIU sophomore pitcher R.J. Fondon was doing, but knowing it was his third trip to the plate in the bottom of the fifth helped.

“Once you get to a guy three times, you kind of learn his tendencies, and we just went with that,” Wells said.

FIU had an answer down 5-4 in the ninth inning, and the Golden Panthers went back to the sacrifice fly. Wittels flied out to right field, allowing junior outfielder Yoandy Barroso to score the tying run.

The loss was Western’s first this season when the Toppers led leaving the eighth inning. Wells said that even as bad as Western played, the squad still had chances to win Friday.

“Everything that was going well for us early in the season isn’t going so well for us now,” Wells said. “We’re just going to have to see what we’re made of and stick it through and get back to what we do best.”

The Toppers continue their series against the Golden Panthers at 3 p.m. Saturday. Finwood said he doesn’t have much room to adjust the lineup with senior second baseman Matt Payton and Robbins both playing injured.

But Finwood said that’s not an excuse, as it’s now time for the Toppers to stop acting like “babies.”

“They’re just not being baseball players,” Finwood said. “They’re being a bunch of babies in my opinion, and it all starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job of either getting them ready or getting some guys in here that are going to be ready.

“I’m not going to put up with that kind of performance — I’m telling you right now.”

Jonathan Lintner

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