After scoring 22 runs in Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep of Savannah State, FAMU’s offense seemed to break out of an early season slump and looked to maintain its momentum against University of Illinois-Chicago.
Limited to one run and eight hits in the first two games of a three-game series, the Rattlers were talking about extra batting practice after Saturday’s 2-0 loss in 10 innings.
“We need it,” said coach Joe Durant. “If we could, we’d come out now.”
In a pitchers’ duel, FAMU’s Mike Connell and the Flames’ hard-throwing lefthander Wes Gilliam pitched shutout ball over eight innings.
In the ninth, Connell was pulled after giving up John Rosner’s one-out single to left.
A.J. Patrick relieved Connell and pitched out of a bases-loaded jam, striking out Chuck Peters on a borderline strike on the outside corner and inducing a Kevin Nelson popup. Second baseman Nick Parker raced down the right field line and made a sprawling catch in foul territory to preserve the scoreless tie.
Patrick could not work out of trouble in the 10th. FAMU’s defense, solid all game, committed two costly errors.
Parker booted Chris Kerpan’s leadoff routine grounder to second. Flames’ second baseman Bryan Russo laid down a sacrifice bunt to the first base side of the mound.
Patrick fielded the bunt, spun and attempted to get the force at second. The throw sailed into left field, putting runners on first and second with no outs.
The next batter, Mike Bruszer faked a bunt, pulled the bat back and hit a slug bunt for an infield hit.
Nelson Gord followed with a sacrifice fly to center, giving the Flames the only run they would need. Rosner plated an insurance run with a RBI double.
Gilliam, relying primarily on his fastball, shut FAMU down, allowing only one hit and striking out seven.
Durant praised Gilliam, but said the Rattlers helped the Flames’ pitchers out by swinging at pitches early in the count.
“We did that a lot. One inning, it was three pitches, three outs,” Durant said.
Closer Eric Xidis came on in the 10th and mowed down the Rattlers, getting pinch hitter Manuel Quinones to foul out to catcher Nelson on the first pitch for the final out.
Connell gave up four hits and struck out eight, lowering his ERA to 3.89.
The lanky righthander said Durant wanted to pull him in the eighth inning, but he insisted on pitching into the ninth. He was at a loss to explain FAMU’s inconsistent run support.
“I really don’t understand it,” Connell said. “It’s like all or nothing. I don’t know what to say.”
Illinois-Chicago starting pitcher Larry Banks kept the Rattlers off-balance in Friday’s game, scattering five hits over eight innings as the Flames won their opening game of the 2002 season 4-1.
FAMU scored its only run of the game in the bottom of the second inning, after the Flames had tacked two runs on the board in the top of the inning.
First baseman Vince Palmer led off the inning with a single up the middle. After advancing to second on Ben Morgan’s groundout, Palmer went to third on Montrey Coleman’s bloop single to left and scored on Quinones’ grounder to second.
Flames coach Mike Dee reserved his highest praise for his club’s defensive play.
“Gord made three outstanding plays at third base. Our shortstop made a huge play in the eighth inning,” Dee said. “To walk off the gym floor and play this way defensively, I was most pleased.”
Durant and the FAMU coaching staff bristled at the home plate umpire’s strike zone most of the night.
In the top of the sixth inning, an angry Rattlers bench boiled over. Pitching coach Brett Richardson was tossed after storming from the dugout to protest a call.
“They stink. I don’t know where their strike zone is,” Durant said.
FAMU starter Mike Sills (1-2) took the loss despite another strong outing. Sills allowed only two earned runs over eight innings.
He didn’t come away too impressed with Illinois-Chicago’s lineup.
“They hit some curve balls off the ground,'” Sills said. “The top of their lineup didn’t do much. Their 7-8-9 guys did most of the damage.”
Flames’ shortstop Bruszer, hitting eighth, went 3 for 4 with two RBIs and also swiped two bases.
The Flames completed a three-game sweep Sunday, beating the Rattlers 7-6 in a 10 inning, error-plagued affair.
Harvell Harris took the loss, giving up a two-out, RBI double in the 10th to Russo. FAMU fell to 4-10 on the season.