GREENVILLE, N.C. – Mike Franco tossed his fourth complete game of the season, while Tyler Hibbert posted a team-best three hits with a pair of RBI leading FIU (32-12, 12-10) to a 7-1 Conference USA opening series win over East Carolina (28-19, 13-9) Friday night at Lewis Field inside Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Franco (8-2) allowed one run (earned) on six hits fanning seven Pirates while not issuing a walk. The junior right-hander notched a win in his fifth-straight decision with three of those coming in complete game efforts. Franco retired 13 of the first 15 batters he faced through four innings allowing a single to Bryce Harman and hitting Drew Reynolds before ECU scratched across a run in the fifth frame.
Tyler Bolton (2-4) suffered the loss giving up four runs (all earned) on six this with three punch-outs and a walk in a career-high 7.2 innings. Nick Durazo allowed a run in one inning of relief, while James Gray surrendered two runs (both earned) on three hits with out recording an out. Hayden White made his seventh appearance out of the bullpen facing one batter in the ninth where he recorded an out.
Edwin Rios staked FIU to an early 1-0 lead in the first driving in Julius Gaines from third on an RBI ground out. Gaines walked with one out and took third on Josh Anderson’s double before crossing home on Rios at-bat.
Brian Portelli’s solo home to start the second frame extended the Panthers lead to 2-0 and proving to be the game-winning run. Portelli drilled a Bolton 2-2 breaking ball over the left field wall for his second round-tripper of the season.
A trio of two-out hits in the fifth stanza increased FIU’s lead to 4-0. J.C. Escarra singled to center, which was followed by Hibbert’s RBI triple to right field. Gaines easily scored Hibbert from third with another base hit to right field, a double, and ended up on third on Ian Townsend’s miscue. But Bolton limited the damage getting Anderson to ground out to end the inning.
ECU finally got on the board in the bottom half of the fifth cutting the lead to 4-1. Harman reached on an infield single to short with one out, took second on Garrett Brooks’ ground and scored on Hunter Allen’s single to right field.
The Panthers put the game out of reach in the ninth scoring three runs with two outs for a 7-1 opening game victory.
Offensively ECU recorded six hits – all singles – with Harman going 3-for-4 from the dish. Allen posed his fifth multi-hit game of the season collecting a pair of hits, while Townsend added one with a single in the sixth inning.
The two teams will continue the three-game series Saturday evening meeting for a rare 6:30 p.m. (ET) start in Greenville. The contest will be televised live on Fox Sports Networks with Ron Thulin (play-by-play) and Pat Combs (color analyst) calling the game.