(Miami Herald) – Interested in seeing if Garrett Wittels of Florida International can hit safely in three more games to break Robin Ventura’s NCAA Division I-record 58-game hitting streak?
The unforgiving heat of the NCAA tournament put FIU on the brink of elimination Friday.
But it was the endless blue sky stretching above Alex Rodriguez Park on Saturday that helped finish off the Golden Panthers’ improbably exhilarating season. First baseman Tim Jobe apparently lost a routine pop fly in the sun in the sixth inning of a tie game, allowing Dartmouth to load the bases with two outs.
On the ensuing pitch, Dartmouth cleanup hitter Jason Brooks crushed a grand slam to left field, spurring the Big Green to a 15-9 victory over FIU in a Coral Gables Regional elimination game.
Although FIU’s remarkable year came to a crashing end, the biggest story in the program’s history will continue into the 2011 season.
Infielder Garrett Wittels doubled in the top of the first inning to extend his history-chasing hitting streak to 56 games.
Wittels, who hit in every game he played this year, will go into the offseason two games shy of the Division I record hitting streak, set by Oklahoma State’s Robin Ventura in 1987.
“I haven’t really thought about it; it definitely was a bad loss [Saturday],” said Wittels, who finished the season with a .417 batting average.
“I think my brain needs a little bit of relaxing. I’ve thought about [the streak] a lot, going out there and playing every single day. It will just make us hungrier next year, all throughout the summer and the fall and early on in the spring.”
Wittels, who went 3 for 5 with two RBI, removed any suspense early, doubling off left-hander Robert Young in his first at-bat.
He finished his season — fittingly — with a single to right, giving him a school-record 100 hits this season.
Because Wittels is just a sophomore, he will have an opportunity to tie — and break — Ventura’s record the first week of next season. FIU will open the 2011 season with a home series against the University of Massachusetts, meaning he could set the mark on campus.
But there are no chances left for Jobe, who is a senior.
FIU (36-25) had seized a 6-2 lead in the second inning, but Dartmouth (27-18) battled back to tie the score at 8 in the sixth. Reliever Corey Polizzano faced Big Green catcher Chris O’Dowd with runners on first and second and two outs, and induced an apparent inning-ending pop-up.
Jobe, who has battled an injured back for much of the year, moved in to make the play. Then it all unraveled for FIU.
With the sun apparently in his eyes, Jobe couldn’t find the ball, and it dropped in fair territory to his right, loading the bases. Jobe was not made available for comment after the game.
“It is a tough sun out there. I don’t know exactly [what happened],” FIU coach Turtle Thomas said. “To have one bad play, that’s just something that happens for 20, 21, 22-year-old players sometimes.”
On the next pitch, Brooks delivered the decisive blow. Dartmouth added three insurance runs in the seventh inning to seal FIU’s fate.
But Jobe’s miscue is not the sole reason FIU’s season is over. Its pitching staff simply could not get outs.
The Golden Panthers were bounced from the double-elimination tournament in just two days, surrendering 32 runs in losses to Texas A&M and Dartmouth, one of the lowest-seeded teams in the tournament.
And FIU went down without its ace throwing a meaningful pitch.
Thomas chose to save Scott Rembisz for a possible matchup with either Texas A&M or Miami on Sunday. By doing so, he essentially overlooked Dartmouth.
The coach later said he had no regrets about the decision.
“Our philosophy was we were going to do everything we could to win the tournament,” Thomas said. “We were not just out to win a game.”
Source: Miami Herald