Justin Gonzalez drove in the game-winning run in the top of the 10th inning, as second-ranked Florida State (25-5, 12-1 ACC) defeated No. 23 Georgia Tech (19-12, 6-7 ACC) 2-1 in the opening game of a three-game series Friday evening inside Russ Chandler Stadium.
After the Yellow Jackets tied the game with a run in the ninth, the Seminoles put together a two-out rally in the 10th, culminating with Gonzalez' go-ahead RBI single through the left side of the infield to score Jayce Boyd from second. Boyd started the rally singling back up the middle off Alex Cruz (1-1) and moved into scoring position after Stephen McGee drew a walk. Gonzalez then found the hole through the left side to plate Boyd to give the Noles a 2-1 lead.
"I struggled all game, but I stayed confident and was able to come through with the hit when we needed it the most," said Gonzalez. "[Coach Mike Martin] told me that I was going to get a chance and to just stay poised, and fortunately I was able to come through for my team. I fell behind with two strikes. I got a good pitch to hit and was able to take advantage of it."
Robert Benincasa (2-0), who suffered his first blown save of the year when Georgia Tech tied the game at one in the ninth, returned to pitch the 10th and retired the side in order to secure the win for the Seminoles. The Tampa native finished the game throwing 2 1/3 innings allowing a run on two hits, as he walked one and struck out two.
"A good win, no doubt about it," said Martin. "Every win on the road is a good win in this league. It was a classic ballgame. I was just so excited for the great job that [Brandon] Leibrandt did. He has just pitched great baseball for us all year. I am just very proud of what we were able to accomplish tonight. Justin has worked so hard, and I am just excited that he stayed closed and put the ball in play. Good things happen when you put the ball on the ground and put it in play."
With the win, Florida State improved to 8-0 in one-run games this year.
"I just can't say enough about what a good, well-played game that was," Martin said. "We made some very good plays defensively tonight. It was fun, a great win for us tonight."
Boyd and Jose Brizuela combined for five of FSU's seven hits in the Game 1 victory. Boyd was a perfect 3 for 3 with three singles, as he reached base on all five plate appearances by adding a pair of walks. Brizuela went 2 for 4 and drove in the first Seminole run in the second.
James Ramsey went 1 for 5 to extend his hitting streak to a season-best 15 games. For the first time in 30 games, Sherman Johnson did not reach base, snapping his streak of reaching base at 29 straight.
The big story occurred on the mound, as fans were treated to pitcher's duel between FSU's Leibrandt and Georgia Tech's Buck Farmer, but neither pitcher would factor into the decision.
Leibrandt worked a career-high 7 1/3 shutout innings, scattering three hits and one walk while striking out four. Pitching in front of the hometown crowd Friday night, Leibrandt would not give up a hit after the third and had retired 15 straight Yellow Jackets until issuing a walk to Daniel Palka with one out in the eighth. All three hits off Leibrandt were singles, while the freshman southpaw did not allow a runner past first base.
"I had the adrenaline going tonight," said Leibrandt on throwing in front of a lot of friends and family. "Really, I was able to mix my pitches equally. They gave me some easy outs on some pitches, and the defense behind me played extremely well."
Farmer was equally impressive, throwing eight innings allowing one run on five hits, as he walked three and struck out eight. He finished the game throwing a career-high 126 pitches.
Florida State threatened right out of the gate, putting a couple runners on with two outs in the first. Ramsey reached on an infield single to short and advanced to second when Boyd drew a walk. Farmer would get out of the inning unscathed when McGee flew out to left to retire the side.
After Leibrandt retired the Jackets in order in the bottom of the first, the Seminoles returned the favor by plating a run in the second on an RBI single by Brizuela to give Florida State the early 1-0 lead. Gonzalez reached to lead off the inning on a hit-by-pitch and moved to second when John Holland drew a walk. The Seminole shortstop would come around to score one batter later when Brizuela laced a single to right center. Brizuela was thrown out at second on the play trying to stretch his base hit into a double.
The Jackets recorded two hits in the second, but Leibrandt faced the minimum to keep the one-run lead intact. Jake Davies singled up the middle but was retired on a double play groundout by Zane Evans. Palka followed with a single through the right side. He was then picked off at first by Leibrandt to close out the second inning.
Neither team would produce much after the second, as Leibrandt and Farmer kept the bats in check until Florida State looked to add to its lead in the eighth.
The Seminoles put together a two-out rally when Boyd and McGee reached on a walk and hit-by-pitch, respectively. But Farmer kept the deficit at one, striking out Gonzalez on his 126th pitch of the game.
The Yellow Jackets recorded their first base runner since the third when Palka drew a one-out walk in the eighth. Leibrandt had retired 15 in a row before issuing his first walk of the game to Palka. That would end the night for the freshman southpaw, as Gage Smith came in and faced just one batter, striking out Connor Lynch. Palka stole second on the play to move into scoring position for the Jackets.
Benincasa came in to get the final out in the eighth, but not before an outstanding defensive play by Devon Travis at second to record the final out of the inning. Pinch hitter Paul Kronenfeld hit a groundball in between first and second, but Travis dove to his left to field the ball in the outfield, jumped to his feet and threw on to Boyd at first to get Kronenfeld for the third out.
Georgia Tech plated the tying run in the ninth off Benincasa to force extra innings. Kyle Wren reached on an infield single and scored all the way from first on an RBI double down the right field line from Brandon Thomas. Benincasa settled down to get the final two outs on a pair of flyouts to keep the game tied at one. It marked the first blown save for Benincasa in 10 chances this year.
After the Seminoles retook the lead in the top of the 10th, Benincasa looked as confident as ever in the bottom half of the inning, retiring the side in order on a strikeout and back-to-back groundouts.
"He was disappointed of course that the game got tied, but, hey, you learn a lot about a guy when that happens," said Martin. He didn't feel sorry for himself and fold his tent up. He battled, got the next two outs and then of course went out and pitched a very good 10th."
"Coming in with two outs in the eighth, my main goal was to get us out of that inning," said Benincasa. "In the ninth inning, I got the first guy out. And you feel like things are going to go according to plan, but things happen. It's baseball. They didn't go according to plan, and in the end it's not about me. It's about the team getting the win. I was just glad that we did score another run in the 10th. That way, I was able to come in and finish the job."
FSU and Georgia Tech return to the diamond for Game 2 of the series Saturday at 6:00 p.m.
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