The Wildcats swiftly ruined an amazing Florida State run at the College World Series on Thursday by clubbing the Seminoles 10-3.
Arizona wasted no time, diminishing FSU's hopes with a devastating six-run first that instantly backed the ‘Noles into a corner. Everything went right for them the previous two games, but from the very outset nothing went their way this time.
Sherman Johnson ripped a Kurt Heyer offering into the left center field gap to open the game. Digging hard for second, Johnson appeared to slide safely into the bag, but second base umpire Phil Benson called him out and turned a promising Garnet and Gold first sour.
Then, with one on in the Wildcat half of the first, starting pitcher Brandon Leibrandt snagged Johnny Field's come backer, spun around and airmailed a throw to shortstop Justin Gonzalez into center field. This opened the door for a punishing Arizona rally. Alex Mejia followed Leibrandt's error with a bloop single to right to score one, and after the Seminoles walked two and surrendered a sacrifice fly, Joseph Maggi poked a single into left. A bobble by outfielder Jose Brizuela allowed a second runner to reach home.
Having retired only one 'Cat, Leibrandt was replaced on the mound by Luke Weaver. With runners on second and third, Weaver picked up a clutch strikeout, but Trent Gilbert followed with another soft floater that dropped into no-man's land and allowed two more runs to cross the plate.
Florida State coach Mike Martin made an interesting analogy to describe the first-inning catastrophe.
"It was obviously disappointing," Martin said in the postgame press conference. "But it's the game. Sometimes you are the dog. Sometimes you're the fire hydrant. It's just one of those situations."
Despite the sudden large deficit, Gonzalez maintained that the 'Noles never stopped believing.
"Definitely not defeated," Gonzalez said when asked about the mood in the dugout after the first inning. "Not down. Everyone was doing their part and, if I remember, we were scratching until the very end. It just didn't go our way today."
The ‘Noles kept pushing, spraying Heyer's pitches all over the field, but unluckily hit balls straight at Wildcat defenders. When FSU did threaten with base runners, Heyer successfully limited the damage to very little, lasting 7 1/3 innings and allowing only two runs on nine hits.
FSU broke through in the fourth when Jayce Boyd led off with his second single of the day to right field and scored from first when Gonzalez stroked a double to the right center field gap. However, Josh Delph struck out and Seth Miller flew out to center to end the inning with Gonzalez stranded on second.
FSU thought momentum might be back on its side, but Arizona answered with four more in the bottom of the fourth. Robert Refsnyder bombed a home run to left off Weaver, and Seth Mejias-Brean luckily chopped a bouncer over Johnson's head for a double to set up a Bobby Brown two-run blast to right.
The Seminoles utilized four different pitchers in the Wildcat fourth and a College World Series record-tying eight over the entire game.
With no outs and the bases juiced in the seventh, FSU managed to only pick up one run when Boyd sent a sacrifice fly to right, bringing Brizuela in from third.
"We had base runners pretty much the whole day," Boyd said. "Just couldn't get that hit to put us over the hump or get us rolling. We had bases loaded there late in the innings, and just sac fly does no good in that situation. But at the same time, a couple plays in the first, you negate those plays and it's a completely different ballgame. But at the same time, when things like that do happen, and they're going to, you just have to be tough as a team and try to fight through it. We didn't give up the whole game. We tried to fight as much as we could to get back in the game. Hats off to Arizona."
Johnson refused to go down quietly in the ninth by stroking a two bagger down the right field line. Devon Travis' missile of a double to right allowed Giovanny Alfonzo, who pinch ran for Johnson, to cross the plate.
The Florida State captain and Lowes Senior CLASS Award recipient, James Ramsey, grounded out to first in his final at-bat as a Seminole. The FSU fan section honored him with a standing ovation as he returned to the dugout to hugs from teammates and coaches alike.
Ramsey fully appreciated his time as a Seminole.
"I personally feel like one of the luckiest guys in college athletics," said an emotional Ramsey, "to have an opportunity to play with 26 other guys in the dugout, that they just went about their business in a great way. There wasn't a whole lot of expectations, but inside the clubhouse there were a lot of guys that fought for each other on and off the field. They did a lot of service in the community. They did a lot with the platform they have. And I don't regret anything. It's been a great year. I feel extremely blessed for every opportunity, and I'm not really that upset the season's over from that standpoint, knowing that the guys that played with me fought to the very last out."
Johnson, another graduating senior, asked nothing less from the teammates that he leaves behind than a Florida State return to Omaha next season.
"I know those guys in there," Johnson said. "The guys that are coming back and the guys that aren't coming back, we want them to win it next year. And that's the goal for them right now, is to come back here next year and win next year. It's kinda crazy, but it starts now for them. They're going to go back, and wherever they go this summer they are going to work hard, with this being the goal, that they're going to come back and win."
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.