Hialeah native recently hit FIU baseball’s first cycle in nearly a half-century

Armando Becerra ran a stop sign – on the baseball field, not in traffic – and, because he did, he produced FIU’s first cycle in 44 years.

Becerra, a Hialeah native playing his first season at FIU after three years at Erskine College (NCAA Division II), got insanely hot this past Saturday in an 18-12 win at New Mexico State.

He hit an RBI double in the first inning, a two-run homer in the second and an RBI single in the third, leaving him a triple short of the cycle with six frames to play.

After a groundout in the fifth, the lefty-swinging Becerra came to the plate knowing he needed a 3-bagger to complete the cycle. Becerra got a changeup, and he pulled it over the first baseman and down the right-field line.

FIU third-base coach Brian Jeroloman gave the sign for Becerra to pull up at second with an RBI double.

But Becerra wasn’t having it – not on this occasion.

“I didn’t even see the coach,” Becerra said. “I was determined to get to third.

“It was an aggressive decision but not a bad decision.”

FIU coach Rich Witten – who was focused on winning the game and was unaware that a cycle was on the line – said there is a general rule in that situation.

“If the runner is going for third with two outs,” Witten said, “he has to be 100 percent sure he’s safe.”

Becerra was safe, of course, as the relay throw never even reached third base, and FIU’s dugout exploded with delight.

Better yet, FIU swept the three-game series, pounding Aggies pitching by the scores of 13-11, 18-12 and 18-6. For the weekend, FIU produced 61 hits, 49 runs, 17 doubles and 11 homers, improving their overall record to 23-17, including 10-5 in Conference USA.

The Panthers, who finished last season 21-34, will enter this weekend on a four-game win streak as they play host to 25th-ranked Dallas Baptist Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Witten, in his second year at FIU, is attempting to turn around a program that hasn’t reached an NCAA regional since 2015.

Of FIU’s top hitters, all of them have been brought in as transfers in the Witten Era except for DH Ryne Guida, who is batting .327 with a team-high 40 RBIs.

Becerra, for example, had no Division-I scholarship offers coming out of high school (iMater) in Hialeah. In fact, Erskine was the only offer he had – at any level.

“I didn’t think I was physically ready for D-1 at that time,” Becerra said.

But, after putting on 20 pounds of muscle in three years at Erskine, Becerra dropped his name into the transfer portal.

He got a call from FIU that same day.

“Coach Witten said there was an opportunity for me,” said Becerra, now listed at 6-0 and 188 pounds. “He wanted to bring me home.”

That’s exactly what happened, but it hasn’t always been easy for Becerra to get playing time.

FIU is blessed with four hot-hitting outfielders that Witten is trying to rotate into three spots. DH is not available because that spot belongs to Guida.

Those four outfielders are Becerra, Austin Dearing, Jeff Liquori and Kishon Frett.

Becerra is hitting .348 with five homers and 21 RBIs. He finished Saturday’s cycle game by going 5-for-6 with seven RBIs.

Dearing, a transfer from State College of Florida, is batting .340 with six homers and 28 RBIs.

Liquori, a transfer from Florida Southern (Division II), is batting .331 with eight homers and 37 RBIs.

Frett, a transfer from Seminole State, is batting .262 with a team-high 12 homers and 29 RBIs.

Other hot hitters are third baseman Brylan West and shortstop Alex Ulloa.

West, a transfer from South Florida State, is batting a team-high .351 with seven homers and 32 RBIs.

Ulloa, a transfer from Miami Dade College, is batting .336 with seven homers and 31 RBIs.

Besides the bats, the other reason for FIU’s recent hot streak is an improved bullpen that features Orlando Hernandez and Ryan Cabarcas.

Hernandez, the son of the former major-league pitcher known as “El Duque”, is 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA and two saves.

Cabarcas is 5-3 with a 1.93 ERA and five saves.