LAFAYETTE, La. – UALR (28-28) pulled within a run on a solo homer by Blake Johnson in the top of the seventh, but FIU (26-31) held on for the 4-3 lead to eliminate the Trojans from the Sun Belt Tournament on Thursday at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field. The Trojans threatened to even the score in the top of the ninth, but sophomore Sage Gasaway was thrown out at the plate on what would have been the tying run.
The Panthers’ Edwin Rios accounted for all four RBI thanks to a pair of two-run homers in the first and sixth innings. The UALR pitching staff limited FIU to just five hits on the day, with Rios being the only Panther to finish with multiple hits.
Senior Chris Burk finished with a perfect 3-for-3 effort in his final college game. Senior John Clark collected two hits in the contest, while Johnson was 1-for-4 with a solo homer. Senior Myles Parma was hitless but drew three walks in the contest.
Jason Morozowski earned the win for FIU to improve to 2-0 on the season. Morozowski came on for starter Tyler Alexander with two outs on the board in the top of the sixth and gave up one run on two hits in 0.2 innings.
Senior Blake Huffman was dealt the loss to fall to 6-5 on the year. Huffman surrendered four runs on five hits while registering four strikeouts in 5.0 innings. Senior Bubba Cooper came on in relief of Huffman and worked 2.1 hitless innings.
FIU built an early lead on a two-run homer by Rios in the bottom of the first inning. After Zach Sweety managed an infield single to give the Panthers a base runner, Rios’ low liner over the right field fence gave FIU a quick 2-0 advantage.
UALR picked up its first hit of the game when Burk slapped a single to right center in the top of the second. Later in the inning, Parma and sophomore Sam Vogel both drew walks to load the bases with two outs. However, Alexander was able to get senior David Guarno to hit a sharp liner to third for the final out of the inning.
The Trojans scratched across a run on a hit and two walks in the top of the fourth. Burk picked up his second hit of the day with a one-out liner past the FIU shortstop, and Parma drew his second walk of the game to put runners on first and second. Another walk to junior Bryson Thionnet loaded the bases for Vogel, whose grounder to short allowed Burk to score the Trojans’ first run of the game. The Trojans were unable to do any further damage, as Guarno struck out with runners at the corners to end the inning.
Consecutive walks to Clark and Burk gave UALR runners at first and second to begin the sixth. Alexander was able to get Parma out on strikes, but issued his third walk of the inning to Thionnet to load the bases. Alexander struck out Vogel for the second out of the inning, but issued his ninth walk of the game to bring home the game-tying run. At this point, Morozowski came on to pitch for the Panthers and was able to get junior Ben Crumpton to hit a deep fly ball to center for the final out of the frame.
FIU provided an immediate answer in the bottom half of the sixth. After Aramis Garcia walked to lead off the inning, Rios went opposite field for his second two-run homer of the game.
Johnson’s solo homer pulled UALR within a run in the top of the seventh. After Clark pulled a one-out single through the left side, Burk was hit by a pitch and Parma drew a walk to load the bases. Chris Elander came on to pitch for the Panthers, and was able to get Thionnet to ground into a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play to get out of the inning with no further damage.
UALR began the ninth with a base runner, as Johnson was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Clark then ripped a single to left center, but the relay throw from left was good enough to get Johnson before he could slide into third for the first out of the inning. Clark moved to second on the throw, while Gasaway came on as a pinch runner. A single by Burk looked as if it could plate the tying run, but Gasaway was thrown out at the plate on a strong throw by Sweety from left field. Parma flied out to left for the final out of the contest.