Miami, FL - Showcasing its strong pitching staff, the Florida Atlantic University baseball team opened the Sun Belt Conference season with a convincing 5-1 win over South Florida rival FIU on Friday night at the FIU Baseball Stadium in Miami. The Owls improve to 12-7 on the season.
Senior starting pitcher Ryan Garton tossed seven scoreless innings and matched a season-high with eight strikeouts. The right hander from New Port Richey improved to 4-1 and lowered his earned run average to 1.59 on the season. He did not allow a base runner past second base and scattered four hits in the victory.
Then, junior reliever R.J. Alvarez kept the Panthers at bay for the final two innings. He struck out five batters to earn his first save of the season.
The two teams were scoreless until FAU junior outfielder Corey Keller hit a towering solo home run well beyond the left field fence in the fifth inning to give the Owls a 1-0 lead. The blast was his third home run of the season.
An inning later, a leadoff infield single by freshman shortstop Mitch Morales ignited a two-run frame that gave the visitors a 3-0 advantage. Sophomore outfielder Geoff Jimenez lined a double down the left field line to put runners on second and third bases with no outs. A passed ball allowed Morales to score.
Finally, a sacrifice fly by junior first baseman Mark Nelson brought home Jimenez. The Owls added two insurance runs in the ninth inning. Jimenez's RBI groundout scored junior pinch runner Dylan Seigel for the first run. Then, senior infielder Mike Albaladejo lined a base hit to score junior outfielder Gregg Bennis.
FIU (8-8, 0-1 Sun Belt) scored its only run on an innocent solo home run by Aramis Garcia off Alvarez in the ninth inning. Starting pitcher Mason McVay fell to 1-2 on the season after allowing three runs in seven innings.
FAU recorded 11 hits in the game, compared to just five for the Panthers. Morales led the team with three hits. Junior third baseman Kyle Newton, Keller and Albaladejo each recorded two hits.
FAU and FIU will continue the three-game weekend series on Saturday, March 17, at 6 p.m. Live audio and statistics of the game can be found at www.fausports.com. For season baseball tickets contact the FAU Ticket Office at 1-866-FAU-OWLS.