Coming off back-to-back losses at the hands of Clemson and desperately needing a win to get back on track, Florida State played with a vengeance in the final meeting of the weekend series with the Tigers.
The Seminoles looked a lot more like the team we have seen all season, emerging with a 9-5 victory in the late game of a Monday doubleheader.
The win earned the ‘Noles the ACC's Atlantic Division title for the sixth year in a row and guarantees them no lower than a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
Sherman Johnson set the tone for FSU, reaching base in all six at-bats and recording a career-high four base hits, including two RBI doubles to right field.
"It means a lot," Johnson said after the game when asked about winning the Atlantic, "especially to come to Clemson, where the juniors and seniors have never won a game here. It was a big weight off our shoulders to get this win."
The ‘Noles continued the early game's late scoring outburst that fell just short in the ninth by jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in the first.
After Tigers starter Jonathan Meyer drilled Jayce Boyd in the head to load the bases, Stephen McGee brought in the first Seminole run with one of his trademark sacrifice flies to right. Josh Delph then lined a single to left to score James Ramsey.
FSU chased Meyer with a demoralizing four-run third.
With one out, Delph, John Nogowski and Seth Miller strung together three straight singles -- each with two strikes -- to pick up the third Seminole run. Jose Brizuela then tripled down the right field line to bring Nogowski and Miller home before Johnson doubled on the very next pitch to plate Brizuela and give the ‘Noles a commanding 6-0 lead.
"We did get off to a good start in this game tonight," said coach Mike Martin. "We came through with some clutch hits to get us in a good position early. You get a five, six-run lead, it's a little easier to play."
Clemson picked up a run off Luke Weaver in both the third and fourth frames, but the bottom of the Seminole lineup answered with three runs of their own in the fifth.
Both Nogowski and Miller, who each hit safely three times, reached to start the fifth. Brizuela walked to load the bases and set up Johnson's second double down the right field line to make it 8-2. Ramsey then popped a sacrifice fly deep enough to center to score Brizuela and give the ‘Noles their ninth run.
Based on the way the series unfolded thus far, FSU probably wasn't the least bit surprised in the sixth when Jason Stolz, Clemson's 9-hole hitter, went deep to left off Hunter Scantling to cut the lead to 9-5.
Gage Smith replaced Scantling and pitched a dominating 2 1/3 innings, surrendering no hits. He even froze Richie Shaffer, a potential first-round draft pick, with a backdoor two-seam fastball that the third baseman stared at for strike three.
"I can't say enough about [Smith]" said Martin. "He is a great competitor. He is a guy that is a perfect setup for Benny."
Robert Benincasa then shut the Tigers down in the ninth to help the Seminoles pick up the win.
Despite dropping their first weekend series this year, the ‘Noles gained confidence by taking the finale in one of the tougher environments in college baseball. Martin thinks the victory gives the Seminoles momentum heading into the NC State series and ACC Tournament.
"We needed that game badly," Martin said. "That was one of the biggest wins of the year for us. I don't care what anybody says, this is the toughest place that I have had to play a baseball game in all of my years of coaching. I can't say enough about the grit and determination of this ballclub. Take your hat off to Clemson. They beat us. They deserved to win the series. But we got it done tonight in a big game for us."
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.
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