June 4, 2010

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -With his team trailing by nine runs, there was little reason for Garrett Wittels to take a pitch.

So the Florida International infielder swung away on a 3-0 count - and moved within three games of history.

Wittels extended his hitting streak to 55 games on Friday, lining a double just over the outstretched glove of Texas A&M second baseman Adam Smith to lead off the sixth inning in an opening-round game of the NCAA tournament. Wittels had gone hitless in his first two at-bats.

He could move closer to Robin Ventura's Division I record of 58 games - set in 1987 - on Saturday, when FIU meets either Miami or Dartmouth as the double-elimination Coral Gables Regional continues.

But down 10-1 in the sixth, Wittels had the green light to swing on a three-ball count. The ball rose over Smith, rolling into the right-center field gap, and the smattering of FIU fans in the stands at the Miami Hurricanes' home park gave Wittels a raucous ovation.

It was the first time in the streak that Wittels got a hit on a 3-0 count.

The Sun Belt's player of the year, Wittels came into the NCAA tournament with a .412 average and as one of the best-known names in the college game, a stunning turnaround for a sophomore who struggled at the plate in 2009 (hitting just .246) and wasn't even penciled into FIU's everyday lineup when the season began.

He's played in 55 games this season, getting a hit in every one.

Wittels hit a flyout to short right in the first, then grounded out to third base to end the third inning, shaking himself up on that play. Wittels appeared to turn his ankle in the batters' box on the swing, came to a stop 60 feet short of first base and grabbed his right calf in obvious discomfort.

He stayed in the game, and on his next at-bat, gave the FIU faithful what they came to see.

Wittels emerged from the dugout to start the top of the sixth, hopped up and down a few times, then got settled at the plate. Time was called after he got to second, Wittels trotted over to the third-base line to remove his batting gloves, then retreated to second and eventually scored later in the inning.