FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
MIAMI – After winning the Sun Belt Conference Championship and returning to the NCAA Regionals for the first time in eight years, the FIU baseball team will take center stage in front of a national audience when the Panthers open the 2011 season with a three-game series set to air on ESPNU and ESPN3, on February 18-20 at the FIU Baseball Stadium.
FIU’s Garrett Wittels will be chasing history against Southeastern Louisiana University as he chases Robin Ventura’s 24-year old record of hitting safely in 58-consecutive games. Wittels currently has a 56-game hitting streak, which carries over from the 2010 season.
Friday night’s game will air live on ESPN3 at 7 p.m. while Saturday’s game will take place at 1 p.m. on ESPN3. Sunday’s possible record-breaking game will be broadcast live on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m.
“Garrett Wittels has a hallowed offensive record within reach and with Southeastern Louisiana being in the Top-25 for a few weeks last year and beating some good teams, fans can expect to see a great weekend of baseball,” FIU Head Coach Turtle Thomas said. “I think both of our teams appreciate the exposure of being on national television and we know that it’s going to be a very exciting time for FIU and the baseball program.”
On the 2010 slate, the Panthers face 24 teams from 10 different conferences, including five teams (Rice, Texas A&M, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana and Bethune Cookman) that advanced to an NCAA Regional.
“We feel like we have a very competitive RPI schedule,” Thomas added. “Going to Rice, Texas A&M, Baylor, Tulane; they are some of the better teams in this country.”
The Panthers open the season with a 13-game homestand featuring SELU (Feb. 18-20), St. Thomas (Feb. 23), Mississippi Valley St. (Feb. 25-27), Rhode Island (Feb. 28), Northeastern (March 2) and Seton Hall (March 4-6). The season kicks-off when SELU visits FIU Baseball Stadium for the first meeting between the two teams. The Lions finished last year with an impressive 40-16 record playing out of the Southland Conference. Two days later, the Panthers welcome NAIA St. Thomas University for a mid-week tune up before a four-game set with MSVSU. FIU will play its only scheduled double header of the season against The Valley on Saturday, Feb. 26.
The Panthers will have a quick turnaround as they host two mid-week Colonial Athletic Association teams in Rhode Island and Northwestern before wrapping up their home stand on March 4-6 against Seton Hall.
FIU will play away from the friendly confines of the FIU Baseball Stadium for the first time as the team takes off for a week-long Texas road trip starting on March 9 with a match-up against 2010 Dick Howser Trophy winner Anthony Rendon and the Rice Owls. Rice finished the season with a 40-23 record and earned a trip to the NCAA Austin Regional. The Panthers will face a familiar foe in Texas A&M for three games from March 11-13. Last year, the Aggies defeated FIU, 15-9, in their first game at the Coral Gables Regional. FIU will finish its Lone Star State swing with a single game at Baylor on March 15.
The Panthers will return to Florida on March 18-20 to take on Gainesville Regional participant Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton. There is no love lost between the two South Florida rivals, as FIU got the best of the Owls in last year’s SBC Tournament. FIU eliminated the regular season champs in two-straight games, including an 11-inning marathon, 18-16 win and a close 11-9 victory in which former Panther and current Florida Marlins pitcher, Scott Rembisz, pitched six innings of relief to earn the victory.
“John McCormick and his staff over there at FAU do a tremendous job. John is an excellent baseball coach and he’s brought that program to the top of the league,” Thomas said about FAU. “They won the league championship last year and have almost their entire team back this year. We’ve had some tight, exciting games with them last year in the regular season and the tournament and they are always competitive games with a lot of emotion. It will be exciting.”
After a short trip up to Jacksonville for two games against North Florida on March 22-23, FIU welcomes WKU (March 25-27) for a weekend series in Miami. The two squads split their four match-ups last season, with the Panthers besting the Hilltoppers in the SBC Tournament, 7-3, to avoid elimination on the second day of competition. WKU graduated senior ace Matt Ridings but returns plenty of talent in senior catcher Matt Rice and junior closer Rye Davis.
After the short trip back to Miami, the Panthers take to the road for one against Tulane in New Orleans, La., before moving up the state to face ULM on April 1-3. Last year, FIU took two-of-three at home from the Warhawks.
Bethune-Cookman comes to town for a mid-week showdown on April 5 before the Panthers travel to Troy for their 15th, 16th and 17th road contests in their last 21 games. The Trojans concluded the season with a 36-25 record, falling to the Panthers in the SBC championship game, 14-10. In all, FIU took three-of-four games played during the season from Troy.
FIU welcomes Louisiana to Miami on April 15-17. The Ragin’ Cajuns earned a trip to the Austin Regional last year, falling to Rice to end their season. During the regular season, the Panthers took two-of-three in Miami, which included an 8-1 Friday night victory against former ace, Zach Osborne.
After an April 19 contest against NAIA Florida Memorial, the Panther return to Little Rock, Ark., for the second-straight season to take on UALR. The Trojans weren’t kind to the Panthers, taking two-of-three last season.
South Alabama return to the FIU Baseball Stadium (April 29-May 1) for a second-straight year. FIU swept the Jaguars in their three-game series by a total score of 19-6. Aaron Arboleya and former Panthers Corey Polizzano and Eric Berkowitz combined to throw a six-hit shutout on Sunday to send the seniors out with style on Senior Day. Florida Gulf Coast will come to town on May 3 for FIU’s final non-conference game of the season.
On May 6-8, the Panthers will return to Murfreesboro, Tenn., where they won five-straight games to end the season as Sun Belt Conference Champions. Dubbed as a “home away from home”, the Panthers will have played Middle Tennessee at their house for three-straight seasons and make four trips to Tennessee in the process.
The Panthers return home for a three-game set against Arkansas State on May 13-15 before finishing the regular season against rival FAU on May 19-21.
“Our Sun Belt Conference Schedule is always extremely tough. We have great coaches in our league. We have coaching staffs that are really working hard in recruiting and getting the best players to keep their teams at the top of the league standings. It’s a very, very competitive schedule to say the least. We’re looking forward to some very tight, tough games in 2011.”
The 2011 Sun Belt Championships will take place in Monroe, La., on May 25-29.