TALLAHASSEE — Florida State (49-11) led the nation in hitting with a .350 average coming into post-season play. The Seminoles put that on display Saturday with a 25-hit to eliminate two-seed Florida (34-24) 17-11 from the NCAA Baseball Tournament on Saturday. Six Seminoles hitters collected at least three hits on the day as they helped rally FSU from a 5-1 deficit.
The Gators came out hungry — sending Florida State starter Matt Fairel to the showers after only three innings. It was the shortest stint that the left-hander had gone this season. And the Florida offense helped by putting runners on base and effectively moving them around to score. Furthermore, the Gators received solid defensive play, which has been a concern throughout much of the latter half of the season. But, it wasn’t enough, not against these guys.
“Really, I don’t know where to begin,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said. “I don’t think that I have ever seen a game in which so many guys got cramps. And all that I could think about was that Southern Miss game where we got beat with Brett Favre at quarterback in Jacksonville. I’m thinking, how in the world do those guys get out there with all that gear on in the heat, but yet, I didn’t see any of our guys or the University of Florida guys backing down. It’s just a credit to both universities for the competitiveness that both displayed today.”
“Obviously, it was a tough day for us on the mound, but you’ve got to tip your cap to Florida State,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They did what they needed to do. But, I was awfully proud of our team for the way that we battled back. We had plenty of opportunities to fold the tent so to speak, but we fought back all the way to the end, so I was awfully proud of the way that they competed today.”
Florida scored in the bottom half of the first inning. Brandon McArthur, hitting in the two hole as the designated hitter because of the discomfort caused by his ruptured ACL, turned an 0-2 count into a single through the left side. He advanced to second on Cole Figueroa’s sacrifice bunt. McArthur moved to third when Fairel uncorked a costly wild pitch. Matt den Dekker drove McArthur home for the Gators first run with a single through the left side. Unfortunately, the runners were left stranded when Jon Townsend struck out to end the inning.
The bottom half of the Gators line-up came through in the second. Clayton Pisani ripped a double to right field. Riley Cooper added a two bagger of his own when he slapped an 0-2 pitch over third base, scoring Pisani. After Fairel delivered a pitch to nine hole hitter Buddy Munroe, Posey threw down to second, catching Cooper drifting too far off the bag. However, he overthrew second and Cooper simply hustled safely into third base. He scored on Munroe’s sacrifice to first base giving the Gators a 3-0 lead.
Florida State finally answered in the top of the third. Ohmed Danesh doubled to left field. He moved to third on Tyler Holt’s single and scored on Jason Stidham’s fly ball to left field.
Figueroa led off the third with a walk for Florida. He was thrown out on Josh Adams fielder’s choice. Den Dekker then walked to give the Gators a pair of base runners. Townsend was hit by a pitch to load them up. Pisani hit a ball toward the gap on the right side. First baseman Dennis Guinn made the pick and fired to shortstop Tony Delmonico at second base who attempted to fire back to first for the twin killing. That allowed Adams to score and when Delmonico’s throw went into the Florida dugout, den Dekker scored to make it 5-1 Florida.
Guinn was hit by a Tommy Keating pitch to lead off the fourth for FSU. He was thrown out on a fielder’s choice on a ball hit by Delmonico. Delmonico moved into scoring position on Stuart Tapley’s ground out to short and Tommy Oravetz brought him home with a single to right field, closing the gap to 5-2.
Florida chased Fairel to start the fourth, as Martin called on right-hander Elih Villanueva. It marked the first time Fairel was unable to go at least five innings. Villanueva’s appearance was interesting because he’s never been called upon as a reliever during the 2008 season. The junior sent the Gators down in order in the bottom half of the frame.
The Seminoles exploded in the fifth batting around while notching seven runs on seven hits. Keating gave up singles to Holt, Stidham, and walked Buster Posey before Jack Rye singled scoring Holt. Keating walked Guinn on a 3-1 pitch to score Stidham. Delmonico then singled driving in Posey. O’Sullivan went with Keating, the Gators best pitcher, as long as he possibly could but it was evident that Keating was tiring and the right-hander gave the Gators a tremendous effort.
Right-hander Kyle Mullaney came in only to be greeted by a single off the bat of Tapley, scoring Rye. Tommy Oravetz then doubled to right field, driving home Guinn and Delmonico. Two batters later, Holt singled, scoring Tapley and O’Sullivan went back to his bullpen, this time for left-hander Tony Davis, who got the Gators out of the inning, but the damage had been done. It marked the 12th time the Seminoles have scored 7 or more runs in an inning.
Keating allowed ten hits and was charged with eight earned runs.
“We knew going into it that our pen was going to be a little light, going through the top of the order,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s what happened yesterday, we got through the top of the order going through it for the third or fourth time. He just got into a funk where he was dropping his elbow and the ball was taking off on him a little bit. He wasn’t getting a real good angle to his pitches and that’s the thing that we’ve been fighting for the last two days was the lead-off man getting on. And we had just scored a couple of runs and gone-up and then the next thing that you know the lead-off man is on again and he’s working from a set position. It’s just one of those innings. We haven’t had a whole lot of games like that this year, where we’ve gotten beat like that to be honest with you where the scores have been so separated and getting beat in. I think that we led the lead in ERA in league games. I think that we’ve done a decent job. We haven’t had one of theses games. It was just one of those games where things kind of go away from us a little bit and we had no choice, but to leave Patrick in there as long as we could.
“It was awfully tough. We struggled throwing strikes early in the count. We ran an awful lot of two-one, two-zero counts and to good hitting team, you’re going to end up being on the losing end of things.”
The Gators didn’t quit and drew even in the bottom half of the frame. Figueroa singled and moved to second on Adams walk. The freshman began cramping up while going to the base. Den Dekker then singled to load the bases. Townsend flew out to right field, allowing Figueroa to score. Pisani followed with a three-run home run to left field on a 2-1 pitch that bounced off the top of the fence, tying the game at 9-9.
“I think that it was a two-zero count to start, so I was just looking for something to drive,” Pisani said. “I wanted to get on base however possible. He just left a curveball up and I just kind of threw my hands, I guess. I didn’t think that it was going out, so I came out of the box hard, but I’m glad that it did.
“It definitely felt like I needed to help spark the dugout. We’d been down. We’d just given up a lot of runs. So, I thought that was little momentum shift. I though that any runs possible was necessary and we just did a great job of battling all day. I was really proud of the hitters and the rest of the team.”
Adams moved to first and Townsend to third in an effort to help Adams with the cramping. The Seminoles took a 10-9 lead in the sixth after piecing together two singles off Davis.
Florida State banged out five hits for five runs in the top of the seventh inning, which proved to be the ball game. Davis allowed two singles before being lifted for Tommy Toledo, who immediately registered a strikeout of Posey. But, Rye then singled to right field, scoring Holt. Guinn singled driving home Stidham before Delmonico belted a three-run home run over the left field fence to give the Seminoles a 14-9 advantage.
Davis (0-2) picked-up the loss. He equaled his season high with 1.2 innings and allowed four hits and three earned runs after facing 10 batters.
The Seminoles added two insurance runs in the eighth inning to make the score 17-11 and keep them alive in their own regional.
Villanueva (7-2) picked up the win for Florida State.
“He was consistently around the zone,” Brandon McArthur said of Villanueva. “And that’s what you’ve got to do when you’ve got a big lead like that. He came in and threw strikes. They weren’t dropping for us today, but he was consistently in the zone.”
This game was really a microcosm, spotlighting the concerns of O’ Sullivan. Concerns that he shared with us before the Gators had even taken the field this season. There were inadequate numbers among the pitching staff, depth should injuries mount along the infield, and the numerous questions surrounding the bullpen.
“Going into the year, we knew that out pitching depth would be a big question mark for us,” O’Sullivan stated. “We only have eight pitchers that have significant innings for us and when you run into a good hitting team like that in a tournament setting like this and lose game one it makes things difficult. You know, we’re looking last night and we had to win four games with seven pitchers, really six pitchers available. We’ve got a couple opf position players that we’ve converted into pitchers to kind of eat-up some innings. But, it was just one of those days where we couldn’t stop them.”
Only nine Florida pitchers have thrown more than nine total innings this season. O’ Sullivan did not have his best player out-of-the bullpen Josh Edmondson at his disposal during the Tallahassee Regionals, which forced catcher turned pitcher Dustin Bamberg into action.
Injuries hindered what the Gators were able to do as well. First baseman McArthur was unable to play defensively because of his ruptured ACL and third baseman Josh Adams suffered through cramps in the 93 degree heat.
The bullpen has been a revolving door all season, struggling to establish a closer. The pen has been good, bad, and average much of the season.
These are not excuses. They are merely the current state of the team. A team that finished second in the rough and tumble Eastern Division and third overall in conference play. They got back to the Southeastern Conference Tournament and made it into the NCAA Tournament action for the first time since 2005.
“We’re going to take a couple of days to kind of regroup,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s been a whirlwind. You know going through this thing for the first time with new players, a new system, a new administration, new expectations, new everything, I almost need to take a couple of days and take a deep breath. I’m awfully proud of the way they competed this entire year. No one thought that they’d be in a regional when this thing started. Like I said yesterday, they picked us to finish eleventh in the league and we ended up finishing third. We did a lot of things that people didn’t think we’d do and those are the things that we’ll try to reflect back on and feel good about. I don’t want this last game to be a defining thing about our team. I want our team to be remembered as a team that battled and hopefully started a long tradition of getting into the post-season year in and year out.”
Recruiting and hard work are the only two means of solving this problem. O’ Sullivan, Brad Weitzel, and Craig Bell need a little time to make adjustments. There was no question that today demonstrated they’re a few players behind Mike Martin and the Florida State Seminoles.