FSU gets shot at redemption vs. Arizona

OF James Ramsey (Ted Kirk/AP)

Florida State has sent home both Stony Brook and UCLA, so now it's time to take yet another shot at Arizona. Having lost to the Wildcats once already, the Seminoles will have to beat them twice.

Captain James Ramsey awarded Scott Sitz the honorary mock WWE belt following the 4-1 victory over UCLA on Tuesday in which Sitz fanned three consecutive Bruins to escape a bases-loaded jam in the sixth.

"The belt has been something that I've tried to give to the team MVP, like a game ball," said Ramsey in the lobby of the team hotel Wednesday. "I did it last year a good bit, but it kinda came and went. And this year I tried to make sure that, after each game when coach [Mike] Martin goes into his office for a couple minutes and debriefs his coaching staff, I always sit along with a couple of seniors and decide who gets the belt for each game, the title belt. It's always been fun. It doesn't always go to the MVP of the game. It could be the guy on the bench for us who's big and kept everybody in the game, or somebody did something extremely unselfish during the course of the week. So we just try to have fun with it."

The belt is only awarded after a victory, so if any more Seminoles desire a chance to adorn it again, they must win again Thursday when they square off with Arizona.

Dropping the College World Series opener to the Wildcats the first time around, the ‘Noles need to beat Arizona twice in order to earn their first trip back to the College World Series finals since 1999.

Winning twice against a team led by former Gators coach Andy Lopez won't be easy, but Martin doesn't want his FSU team to change anything.

"I think the big thing we have to do is just try to play as we've played all year and let the chips fall as they may," Martin said after the UCLA win. "We're going to come out and try to play a little better than we did [Friday], but we're not going to change anything. Coach Lopez is one of the best in the country. You're not going to surprise him with anything. They're a beautiful baseball team. We have a big uphill climb, but we're so excited to still be here."

For a team that is 2-0 in Omaha, Arizona surprisingly holds only a .219 team batting average. But the Wildcats won their games against FSU and UCLA with excellent pitching, allowing a measly .176 average against.

Wildcats ace Kurt Heyer represents the largest roadblock the ‘Noles must overcome. However, Lopez may withhold Heyer, who threw 128 pitches over 7 2/3 frames in the opener against the ‘Noles, until the possible second game with hopes of saving him for the final.

Jayce Boyd learned a thing or two from hitting against Heyer the first go around.

"He likes to work quick," said Boyd. "Not necessarily trying to slow him out of his game at all, but just kinda knowing in the back of your mind, when you get in the box, be ready to go. He's going to come after you. He doesn't mess around, that's for sure. He has good movement on his fastball, works a good breaking ball. Just stay with the same approach we've had all year. Nothing's going to change. Nothing can deviate us from our plan of what we're trying to do as a team."

Justin Gonzalez also feels that the plan remains the same, regardless of whether or not they face Heyer on Thursday.

"That's our game plan from the get go, is to get to the bullpen," Gonzalez said Wednesday. "That's with any team, not just Arizona. That's when we do our best. We try to work the count. We try and take pitches, take strikes and see how long he'll go."

One of the best at working the count is third baseman Sherman Johnson, who acts as a nuisance to opposing pitchers by repeatedly fouling off pitches. The scrappy FSU leadoff hitter has amassed five hits and five runs in three games thus far in Omaha.

"There is your consummate leadoff hitter," Martin said. "I've been blessed in this program for a long time with excellent leadoff hitters, so this guy is a true pest. He is no fun if you are in the other dugout. I just thank God I'm in the dugout wearing the same uniform he's wearing."

On the other hand, Boyd, who flirted with a .400 batting average throughout the year, has reached base only twice in his previous three games. He hopes that his surprise bunt single that scored two against UCLA will give him a major lift at the plate.

Brandon Leibrandt will make his second College World Series start, both coming vs. Arizona. Not making it through the fifth in his first appearance, a second opportunity at the Wildcats excites the young pitcher.

"Coming out of the game in the fifth inning the other night," Leibrandt said Wednesday, "you just wanna do some more to almost get a second crack. My teammates said this is going to be your last start, and I just believed in them. And here we are. Get to go again and couldn't be happier."

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Leibrandt feels extra prepared having already experienced the excitement of playing in TD Ameritrade Park for the first time.

"After the first batter, I was able to settle in," he said. "Definitely now you know what to expect going out there. You know how the fans are going to be. Just gotta be ready."

Even though he recognizes that defeating the Wildcats twice will not be easy, Gonzalez gains confidence from the fact that the ‘Noles played ugly against Arizona in their CWS opener but still almost won the game.

"Knowing that we were still in it through 12 innings, even though we didn't play our best baseball, it just says a lot about the character of this team," he said. "So it's going to be a dogfight, hopefully, these next two games. We're looking forward to it."


Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.


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