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Florida Southern Steals Series Opener

Pedro Rivera Donny Rieber Jr | Sports Lowdown

The Florida Tech Panthers were on the wrong end of a 4-3 score Friday night in the opener of a three-game series at Andy Seminick-Les Hall Field.

James Gronberg did make history in the loss, stealing the 65th base of his career in the seventh inning. That tied him for second place on the Panthers all-time list.

The Panthers hurt themselves in this game, leaving runners on in every inning but the ninth, but they were also hurt by the base umpire, who made two key calls against the Panthers in the eighth inning, that likely cost them at least a chance to tie the game.

As you would expect, Panthers coach Greg Berkemeier took the high road in his postgame comments, focusing on his teams’ struggle to score early in a game that saw them leave nine runners on.

“We needed to find a way to push something across earlier when we had opportunities and we just didn’t get it done,” he said. “That was a typical Friday night game in this conference and I thought it was a well-pitched game. I thought their guys threw the ball well, I thought our guys threw the ball well, we just gotta find a way to scratch one across.”

Andy Marzheuser (5-2) got the start for Florida Tech, and despite giving up a run in the third inning, he pitched well, striking out seven batters in 4.2 innings of work. His night was cut short after a visit from Berkemeier, following a walk to Zach Scott. It looked as though they were looking at Marzheuser’s shoulder before he was ultimately taken out.

“He’ll be fine, he’ll be fine,” said Berkemeier. “He felt a little something on a couple of pitches, but he’ll be alright.”

J.J. Niekro got the start for Florida Southern, going just four innings in his second start of the year, after being sidelined by an injury. The decision to have Niekro pitch four innings was made by the coaching staff prior to the game, so Niekro did not go the required five innings to qualify for the win.

Scott got the scoring started in the top of the third when he knocked in Vaun Brown, who had doubled earlier in the inning. The Panthers answered back in the bottom of the inning when Pedro Rivera and Rodnie Bernard hit back-to-back two-baggers, tying the game at one.

Gronberg showed off the leather in the top of the fifth, making a great diving catch in center field. That followed a Brett Parrish diving stab in right field in the first inning.

“We made a couple good plays and we made a couple that cost us a little bit,” said Berkemeier. “That happens from time to time.”

Following Marzheuser’s departure with two outs and two on, Jordan Murray came in and threw a wild pitch, putting runners at second and third. Alan Burnsed then stroked a single to left, scoring two, and giving the Moccasins a 3-1 lead.

Florida Tech (19-15, 8-8 SSC) had a good chance when they loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth against FSC reliever Jacob Kelley, who almost hit Jacob Buser twice during his at-bat, only to get Buser to pop out, ending the threat.

Rivera made a great catch in foul territory, tumbling toward the wall, as he made the grab. Unfortunately, the costly play that Berkemeier referenced would happen one inning later, when an error, an intentional walk, and a hit by pitch helped the the Mocs’ load the bases. Ricky Gonzalez then singled, making it a 4-1 game.

Florida Tech made a lot of noise in the eighth, starting with a walk by Dylan Owens. After he was sacrificed to second, Parrish hit one to center field that was initially gloved by Brown, but before he secured it, the ball came out and put runners at the corners. The umpires then got together to discuss the call and ultimately overturned it.

“I honestly did feel like he probably ended up catching that one,” said Berkemeier. “But at the same time, it’s a tough play and it didn’t go our way.”

Raul Quintero would then walk, and Vinny Catanza was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. That brought Rivera to the plate and he singled home two, making it a 4-3 game. Bernard then followed with a ground ball to short that the fielder hesitated with, as he wasn’t sure where he wanted to go with the ball. Bernard was running hard out of the box and definitely looked like he beat the throw, but the base umpire, who was astoundingly awful much of the night, decided to make his presence felt again, by calling him out and ending the inning.

The Panthers would be sent down in order in the ninth by FSC closer Leo Rodriguez, who picked up his eighth save. He has yet to allow a run this season.

For more info: Florida Southern @ Florida Tech Box Score 

The Panthers will look to bounce back Saturday in game two of the series, starting at noon. Colin Cristello will get the start for the Panthers.

“He’s gonna go out there and give us a chance,” Berkemeier said of Cristello. “That’s all we can ask.”