OMAHA, Neb. – In a game when runs didn’t really figure to be all that hard to come by, somebody was sure to eventually blink.
But after Florida State and Arizona both struggled to push runs across, it took six innings – including three extra ones – before a winning run was finally scratched out when the teams collided in the second game of opening day at the 2012 College World Series.
The Wildcats edged the Seminoles 4-3 in 12 innings when Joey Rickard and Johnny Field walloped back-to-back one-out doubles off Seminoles’ closer Robert Benincasa to produce the first run by either team in the final six frames.
Armed with the narrow lead, Matthew Troupe slammed the door when he worked around a one-out walk by coaxing leadoff hitter Sherman Johnson into a 4-3 groundout and then striking out Devon Travis.
“Momentum is a huge thing, and being able to get that first win will carry us forward,” Troupe said after he picked up his fifth win. “I think we’ll ride the momentum Sunday and for the rest of the world series.”
That was the end of Troupe’s 2.2-inning stint, which came on the heels of fellow freshman Tyler Crawford notching 1.2 frames of shutout ball.
Holding the Seminoles (48-16) scoreless for six innings was a major development. FSU entered the CWS averaging nearly 7 runs a game and scored 35 times in two wins over Stanford in the Super Regional Round.
Against the Wildcats, Florida State couldn’t muster much of anything. The ’Noles produced only eight hits and were a combined 2-for-19 after freshman John Holland jacked a two-out, two-run double to left field in the sixth inning to forge a 3-3 tie.
It wasn’t a matter of not producing in run-scoring situations because FSU never got a runner beyond first base following Holland’s double – the last 4.1 innings against freshman relievers.
“Really proud of our two freshmen coming out of the pen,” UA coach Andy Lopez said. “Combined they had no walks, which I think is crucial.”
Arizona’s offense had similar struggles, especially after Benincasa took over in the eighth inning. The Seminoles’ late-inning ace mowed down 13 of the first 14 batters he faced, hanging up three zeroes on the scoreboard in the process.
In a matter of a few pitches, though, the Wildcats found an answer against Benincasa.
Rickard jumped on a pitch and rifled it to the gap in left-center field to give Arizona its first extra-base hit of the night. Field made sure the wait for the next one wasn’t long as he drilled a pitch to right-center to score Rickard.
|Josh Delph slides in with the tying run on Josh Holland's 2-run 2B.|
That was only the second time all night the Wildcats produced consecutive hits.
“I wasn’t really seeing the ball well too well, had really bad at-bats early in the game.” Field said. “Trying to do too much and chasing pitches that weren’t in my zone.
“The last at-bat, I made adjustments, went back to the drawing board and tried to look for a pitch to hit. He just threw one over the plate and I was lucky enough to get my barrel on it.”
Early on, the Wildcats seized a 2-0 lead with a long inning against Florida State starter Brandon Leibrandt, who had breezed through the first two frames with barely a ripple.
Catcher Riley Moore lined a single to left field – one of his three – and moved to second base on Trent Gilbert’s bunt. Rickard supplied the first run when he punched a base hit through the middle and he came home three batters later when Robert Refsnyder came through in the clutch with a two-out base hit.
Arizona nudged the lead to 3-1 in the fifth inning on another Refsnyder RBI hit, but Seminoles’ reliever Gage Smith minimized the potential damage when he coached Seth Mejia-Breen into a 4-6-3 double play.
Sherman Johnson got FSU on the board in the bottom of the third inning with a leadoff home run, but that was all Wildcats starter Kurt Heyer allowed in the first 5.2 innings.
Jayce Boyd reached on an error to start the Seminoles’ sixth inning, but Heyer struck out Stephen McGee and Justin Gonzalez to flirt with ending the threat. Josh Delph walked and Holland, a .250 hitter with 8 RBIs before the game, knotted the score when he floated a ball to left-center that landed and split the outfielders.
“Definitely a big boost for John to get that hit, and it put us right back in the game,” Johnson said. “It was like the whole dugout was rejuvenated.”
Heyer got pinch-hitter Seth Miller on a routine fly ball to left field and got six of the next seven batters out before Lopez lifted him after his 128th pitch struck out Gonzalez.
That put the Wildcats’ fate in the hands of their two freshmen relievers and they came through.
“Their guys did a very good job of pitching,” FSU coach Mike Martin said. “They just really kept us off-balance. They worked both sides of the plate extremely well.”
Now the two teams both face challenges in the second round.
For the Wildcats, the task is to find a way to beat UCLA, which took two of three from Arizona this season in Tucson.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, begin their uphill challenge when they take on Stony Brook, which Martin called a “beautiful baseball team.”
“It was a tough game, but in the huddle (Martin) was talking about what South Carolina did two years ago when they lost the first game and why couldn’t that be us?” Johnson said. “I think that’s the mindset everybody’s going to take coming forward. It’s tough, but we’ll forget about it and be ready to go Sunday.”