Never before has a freshman started on opening day for Florida State.
But Brandon Leibrandt did just that, taking the mound Friday against Hofstra and leading the Seminoles to a dominating 9-2 victory.
The pressure of delivering a strong outing was not lost on Leibrandt, especially with all of the hype surrounding opening day and the inexperienced pitching staff.
"It was definitely an atmosphere out there," Leibrandt said after the game. "I didn't realize how big it was until I stepped out on the mound. I actually got the chills when I heard my name running out there, heard the crowd cheering. There was nothing like it."
Understandably so, the anxiousness affected Leibrandt early, as he walked two and surrendered a run on a sharply-hit single to left in the first. He rebounded well, though, not allowing another run and striking out two through five innings of work.
"I felt like I was able to make pitches when I needed after finally calming down," he said. "My fastball command was okay and I walked some guys, but there were times that I needed to buckle down, hit my spots and get some outs."
Coach Mike Martin recognized that Leibrandt started the game slightly erratic but was pleased with how his pitcher bounced back.
"He was pitching his first game at Florida State and was a little jittery," said Martin. "He did not locate as well as he can, but he had a great game in the way he took control of the situation. He did not panic. He did not start wondering if things were going to happen for him. He fought through it. Starting in the third inning, he looked like Brandon Leibrandt."
The sluggish start for the Seminoles quickly turned into a home run derby in the second, when Jayce Boyd blasted Jared Roger's outside pitch over the right-field fence to even the score at 1. It was the first pitch of the at-bat and extended his hitting streak to seven games. Even more impressive, this was Boyd's fourth home run in his last five games dating back to last year.
Two batters later, Justin Gonzalez singled up the middle, which brought versatile freshman Jose Brizuela to the plate. In his first ever college at-bat, Brizuela connected, sending a 1-1 pitch off the light pole in right to give the Seminoles a 3-1 lead.
"I was just looking dead red, trying to react to something good, and I got a fastball and I just hit it hard," Brizuela said. "It was a moment that I'll never forget, and I'm looking forward to playing more."
This unforgettable moment also helped ease the pressure for Leibrant by giving him a lead with which to work.
"It was definitely nice to get a lead," Leibrandt said. "[Pitching] coach [Mike] Bell told me that when we get momentum, just go out there [and] throw up another zero, and that can really change the game."
Captain James Ramsey added to the lead in the third by drilling a solo home run to right to make the score 4-1.
Hofstra hung in the game until the bottom of the sixth, when FSU's No. 9 hitter, Seth Miller, finished the Pride for good. John Nogowski drew a walk, Gonzalez singled to left and Stephen McGee walked to load the bases with two outs for Miller.
On an 0-1 pitch, Miller cranked a line drive down the right field line for his first career grand slam to put the ‘Noles up 8-1.
"It felt good," Miller said. "I was sitting dead red fastball. [Martin] told me to take a breaking ball until I got two strikes, so I was looking fastball and he threw it right down the plate. I was able to square it up and hit it well."
The Seminoles refused to quit, sparking another rally in the sixth that included a Boyd walk with the bases loaded to raise their run total to 9.
Besides the first, the only other blemish for the 'Noles came in the top of the ninth. Pitcher Kyle Bird gave up a walk and then a double down the left-field line to third baseman T.J. Thomas to knock in Hofstra's second run of the ballgame. The game ended three batters later, when Austin Nyman grounded out to first base and gave the Seminoles their first win of the season.
The ‘Noles registered their 14th consecutive opening-day victory and will look to improve their record to 2-0 as they send Peter Miller to the mound to face off against Hofstra again Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
For one day, though, the Seminoles will celebrate a strong outing by Leibrandt and the surprise of scoring eight of nine runs via the long ball.
The effort left Martin looking ahead to a bright outlook for the season.
"I can't tell you what that does for us, to see a mixture of veterans and new guys contributing on opening day," he said. "Brizuela is not a home run hitter, but if you leave the ball in the wrong spot, he will do damage. [Ramsey] and Jayce, that is why they hit third and fourth in the lineup. We hope that is what they will do for us all season long."
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.
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