'Nole rallies fall short in loss to FIU

Florida State dropped its first game of the season Friday to Florida International. Brandon Liebrandt struggled, and Sherman Johnson and Co. couldn't get the big hits when the 'Noles needed them.

The beginning of the weekend didn't go as planned for Seminole sports.

Less than 24 hours after Florida State lost to Duke in basketball, the 'Noles suffered their first defeat of the season in baseball at the hands of winless Florida International, 8-5.

Similar to the Duke game, the ‘Noles battled but couldn't complete the comeback, stranding 15 runners on base.

Trailing 7-5 in the seventh, third baseman Sherman Johnson stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Johnson tattooed the first pitch out of the hand of reliever Michael Gomez, but perfectly-positioned outfielder Nathan Burns easily made the catch to end the rally.

"When I hit it off the bat, I was like, ‘Yes!'" Johnson said. "And then I looked up and it was right at him, and I was like ‘Aw, man, that's not good.' It happens. There's going to be that time where you cue a ball and it's a base hit and you're like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?' And then you have times like that where you're seeing the ball well, you hit it hard and they just seem to be there. That's baseball."

Making his second collegiate start on the mound, Brandon Leibrandt struggled, lasting only 2 2/3 innings and allowing four runs on five hits and four walks. The Panthers' leadoff hitter, Pablo Bermudez, opened the game with a sharp double to right, and by the end of the first Florida State already trailed 2-0.

Coach Mike Martin pointed to the FIU bats when explaining Leibrandt's outing.

"He was making some pitches that he doesn't normally make," Martin said. "Don't really know how to explain it. He was ahead of a number of hitters, but give them credit. They came back and got a pitch that maybe he wishes he had back."

After scoring two in the fifth to cut the lead to one, the Seminoles looked to tie the game at 6 with John Nogowski on third and Jose Brizuela at first with only one out. FIU reliever Eddy Pidermann caught Brizuela in a rundown after the freshman jumped too early on a steal attempt. From third, Nogowski tried to sneak home during the rundown but was gunned out by half a step.

This ended the fifth-inning rally, and the ‘Noles never crossed the plate again.

"That was not John's fault," said Martin. "I, as a coach, need to do a better job of being sure that that doesn't happen again. It's nothing but youth. Two freshmen on the bases. We need to spend some more time on that, and we will."

FSU's eighth looked promising after Devon Travis doubled and James Ramsey walked to open the inning. But Gomez silenced the Seminoles by striking out Jayce Boyd and Nogowski looking, and then he fanned Justin Gonzalez swinging to end the threat.

Boyd did manage to extend his hitting streak dating back to last season to 11 games with a clutch two-run single to left in the third.

In the Florida State ninth, Travis represented the tying run at the plate after both Stephen McGee and Johnson battled to draw walks. Travis made solid contact but right to Gomez, who snagged the grounder and then flipped the ball to first to finish the game.

Martin recognized that Florida International's ability to capitalize on opportunities changed the outcome.

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"If you just look at the game, you gotta just take your hat off to FIU," he said. "They made four errors. They did not play well, but they kept scrapping and got the key hits when they needed them. It's obviously disappointing. We're never satisfied when we get beat, but some nights you just have to give the credit to the other club. That's just the nature of the beast. Our guys fought. There was no give-up."

Johnson remains encouraged.

"You just gotta keep fighting," he said. "We can't let it bother us. It's a long season, as we always say. You just gotta keep working towards that ultimate goal, and we're going to keep doing that. Were gonna come out [Saturday], and were going to be ready to go."

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

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