OMAHA, Neb. – By this point of the season, it doesn’t matter what way, shape or form wins look like for the remaining teams at the College World Series.
And it doesn’t matter if the main characters playing the major roles look a little different than the stereotypical high-level athletes who dominate the game at most levels.
Florida State pieced the perfect meeting of both those factors Tuesday, and as a result, the Seminoles climbed into the semifinal round – still very much alive and well in the hunt for a national championship.
FSU used some early offensive patience, the element of surprise mixed with aggressive hustle and the best game of junior Scott Sitz’s baseball life to plug past UCLA 4-1 at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Seminoles (50-16) will tangle with Arizona (45-17) at 4 p.m. Thursday. Florida State needs two wins over the Wildcats to advance to the best-of-three national championship series.
To get there, FSU handed the ball to Sitz and he came up huge.
|Florida State pitcher Scott Sitz jumps for joy after striking out three UCLA hitters with the bases loaded in the sixth inning|
The short-and-stocky mustachioed player his teammates call “Bulldog” turned in his best performance of the season and perhaps of his three-year career. He logged 6.2 innings, limited the Bruins (48-16) to five hits and struck out eight.
UCLA had a chance to knock Sitz around and possibly out in the sixth inning when Kevin Williams led off with a walk, Beau Amaral roped a double into the right-field corner and Sitz plunked Tyler Heineman to load the bases.
Seminoles coach Mike Martin strolled out to talk to Sitz, but left him in to face Cody Keefer, who punched an RBI base hit through the middle to get the Bruins on the board and trim FSU’s lead to 4-1.
With Sitz in danger of giving up a game-changing inning, he dug deep and started flipping one breaking ball after another at the UCLA hitters and struck out Jeff Gelalich, Trevor Brown and Pat Valaika in order – leaping as high as he could after the last swing and miss to end the Bruins’ uprising.
“After that third strikeout, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more pumped up in my life,” Sitz said.
|Pat Valaika walks away after fanning to end the sixth with the bases loaded|
“I just couldn’t believe the last batter swing. I had to go back in the dugout and ask our catcher if he swung. It was just an awesome feeling.”
A moment that all but extinguished UCLA’s hopes as it turned out.
“No question the sixth inning was the big inning that Scott showed that his nickname is evident because he was the bulldog,” Martin said. “You get the bases loaded against a team as talented as UCLA and get a run in and get out of it is just a credit to him. Certainly it was big for us.”
The Seminoles didn’t need many big things on offense – just some gritty at-bats and a veteran seeing an opportunity and making something happen.
Bruins starter Zack Weiss couldn’t command the strike zone in the first inning and that let FSU scratch out two quick runs in the first inning.
Weiss walked FSU’s Sherman Johnson to start the frame, gave up a one-out single to James Ramsey on a full-count pitch and then walked Jayce Boyd and Stephen McGee to force in a run.
“They don’t chase,” UCLA coach John Savage said of the Seminoles’ patient approach. “We weren’t in the zone and that’s a lethal combination.”
Savage lifted Weiss for freshman left-hander Grant Watson, who walked Justin Gonzalez to force in the second run before coaxing Josh Delph into a 3-2-3 double play.
Those three first-inning walks set the tone, though, as the Bruins pitchers had to adjust and throw hittable strikes earlier in counts.
|FSU's Devon Travis slides across the plate with the second run on Jayce Boyd's bunt to give the Seminoles a 4-0 lead|
Watson ran into more trouble in the fourth inning when Johnson, Devon Travis and Ramsey whacked consecutive singles to load the bases with nobody out. Searching for an answer, Savage went to Ryan Deeter and on his first offering, Boyd laid down a perfect push bunt to the left side that caught UCLA third baseman Kevin Kramer by surprise.
Kramer charged the ball but it scooted under his glove to allow Johnson to score easily. Travis never slowed down rounding third base and slid in safely when Kramer’s throw was off the mark, giving FSU a 4-0 lead.
“Jayce laid down the big bunt and Devon did such a great job of being head’s-up and rounding the bag,” Martin said. “Man, I’d love to take credit for that, but Jayce read it on his own.”
Added Boyd, “I don’t even think the pitch that I bunted was anywhere near the strike zone. But I knew the element of surprise would’ve been gone if I let it go by.”
For UCLA, those two runs, combined with the Seminoles’ pitched, wiped out the element of hope.
After dodging the sixth-inning bullet, Sitz got the first two outs of the seventh inning and then gave way to Hunter Scantling, who ended the seventh by getting Amaral to roll out to second base and then got the Bruins in order in the eighth inning.
Robert Benincasa slammed the door with a perfect ninth inning, retiring Brown on a routine flyout out to center field and striking out Valaika and pinch-hitter Chris Keck for his 16th save.
|John Savage: 'For whatever reason, the last two games, it just didn't happen.'|
Those were the final outs on an offensive night that Savage summed up as “frustration and poor swings.”
Savage could have been talking about either of his team’s final two games.
UCLA began the CWS blazing, with a five-run first inning against Stony Brook last Friday. After that opening salvo, the Bruins batted .159 (14-for-88) over the final 25 innings.
“These last two games, we didn’t play offensively how we have all year,” Amaral said. “We didn’t adjust to the pitching as quickly as we should’ve. When we did square up balls, I felt like it wasn’t at somebody.”
Keefer’s RBI single ended a 14.1-inning scoring drought, but Sitz’s escape act seemed to take all the starch out of the UCLA bats.
“Right when we felt we had that little mojo going on our way and we had guys on and (Keefer) had that hit with the bases loaded, we all felt like it was going to be a big inning,” Brown said. “We all got just a little out of character and got a little too excited and weren’t as patient as we should’ve been at the plate.”