Ole Miss Baseball weekend preview: Scouting Florida International
Florida International, Ole Miss’ first opponent of the 2016 season, finished last year with a sub .500 record, but first impressions can be deceiving.
Not only did the Golden Panthers rebound to win the Conference USA Tournament and earn a regional bid in nearby Coral Gables, FIU also returns a ton of talent and, oh by the way, they are located in Miami–one of the deepest talent pools of baseball talent in the nation.
The strength of Florida International is the starting rotation. The Golden Panthers return their weekend starting pitchers, but it will be tweeked a bit starting the season. Cody Crouse is coming off an elbow injury, but there is still a staff of arms to take up the slack, even though Crouse is expected to get the starting nod next week against Missouri.
Friday, Ole Miss will see Andres Nunez. The sophomore is imposing on the mound at 6-foot-4 and as a freshman stepped up with a 6-6 record.
Saturday, the Golden Panthers will roll out Chris Mourelle who is as tough as a pitcher Ole Miss will see this year. The former New York Mets’ draft pick went 7-7 last year and in his seven losses, Mourelle received exactly seven runs in support. By the way, he was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year two seasons ago.
Sunday, FIU is still weighing its options. Garrett Cave could get the nod, but if the Golden Panthers have a late-inning lead in the first two games, look for Cave to serve in a closer’s role. Nate Pearson will be the wildcard in the staff. The reigning Florida High School Class 3-A Player of the Year posted a 0.91 earned run average as a senior and chose FIU over Duke and Notre Dame.
Panthers at the plate
Offensively, Zack Soria is the Golden Panthers’ top returning hitter finishing last year with a .288 average with six doubles. J.C. Escarra returns after ripping ten doubles and five home runs and Austin Rodriguez clubbed another six round trippers.
In the field
The outfield is going to be the question mark for the Golden Panthers. Jack Schaaf is the only returning starter and will begin the season in centerfield. Up to six players have the chance to earn playing time in left and right field, but count on the fact FIU will be strong fundamentally in all positions.
Game times and television coverage
Friday’s game is set for 4:00 p.m. (CT), while Saturday’s first pitch will be at 1:30 p.m. Sunday’s game begins at Noon. All three games of the series can be seen on the SEC Network.
GOLDEN PANTHER NOTES:
- In 2010 Garrett Wittels of FIU had a 56-game hitting streak, the second-longest in NCAA Division I history. Although it matched Joe DiMaggio’s streak in 1941, it fell two game short of the record held by Oklahoma State’s Robin Ventura.
- On a football note, former Golden Panther wide receiver T.Y. Hilton of the Indianapolis Colts played in his second Pro Bowl last month.
- Mike Lowell is a former FIU Golden Panther. He won a world series with the Boston Red Sox, Florida Marlins and the New York Yankees.
- FIU will be back in Mississippi for the C-USA Championship tournament which will be held in Hattiesburg.
(Feature image credit of Pitcher Chris Mourelle: FIU Sports)