Florida State gutted out a 3-2 win in the second game Friday of the NC State series and picked up the No. 1 seed for the upcoming ACC Tournament in the process.
Leading 3-2 in the eighth, Seminoles closer Robert Benincasa replaced Gage Smith on the mound after Wolfpack DH Danny Canela doubled to deep right field with only one out.
Benincasa proceeded to retire the next five hitters consecutively to pick up his 13th save of the season, fanning Jake Fincher to end the eighth-inning rally and striking out pinch hitter John Gianis with a nasty slider to finish the game.
Looking ahead to the postseason, coach Mike Martin and pitching coach Mike Bell plan to extend Benincasa's outings to earlier in games to make the most of his dominant arm.
"Before the weekend, Coach Bell came over to me and told me that they are going to start using me more in the eighth inning or earlier on," Benincasa said, "to kinda be ready for that mentally. I was expecting to go out in the eighth inning to start the inning, but Gage was able to do his job and I was able to kinda get out of that little bit of a jam. It's something that I'm going to have to be ready for, especially as the season goes on. So it was fun, and I'm looking forward to more occurrences like that."
FSU threw possibly its three best pitchers in Brandon Leibrandt, Smith and Benincasa to beat the 13th-ranked Wolfpack.
Leibrant looked sharp, tossing five innings and allowing only one run to cross the plate in the first. But despite the positive way in which he rebounded from his previous outing versus Clemson, Leibrant's high pitch count still bothered him following the game.
"The line is actually deceptive," he said. "It was a tough five innings. I think I threw 96 pitches, but I just had to bear down and continue to make pitches to each batter."
Regardless of the pitch count, Leibrant only gave up two weak hits, mixing in his changeup the entire outing to effectively keep the Wolfpack off balance.
NC State opened the scoring in the first when speedster Trea Turner chopped a single up the middle, then stole both second and third before Ryan Mathews drove him in with a sacrifice fly to center.
"[Turner] is impressive," Leibrandt said. "You think as soon as he gets on, it's a perpetual triple."
FSU immediately answered with a two-out rally in the bottom of the first. James Ramsey drew a walk and moved to third on Jayce Boyd's single up the middle. Stephen McGee then ripped a clutch single over the second baseman to even the score at one.
Nothing changed until the fifth, when Sherman Johnson doubled to right to the chorus of "Oh, Canada" from the Animals, just missing a home run to lead off the inning. Devon Travis' groundout to second moved Johnson to third, and Ramsey drove him in with his first of two sacrifice flies on the day to give the ‘Noles a 2-1 lead.
In the top of the seventh, back-to-back NC State doubles off Smith by Logan Ratledge and Turner tied the score at two. However, Smith then sneakily picked Turner off at second to keep the Wolfpack from adding any more.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, FSU countered once again by executing productive at-bats. Jose Brizuela doubled down the left field line to start the frame and reached third by tagging on Travis' flyout to center. Ramsey then sent his second sac fly of the game to left center to easily knock in Brizuela for the go ahead run.
To Benincasa, clinching the regular-season ACC title for the ninth time in school history was to be expected. But emerging victorious in a tightly-contested game after struggling to escape with wins of late excited the closer and his team more than anything.
"We kinda expected [to clinch the ACC]," he said. "We had the team all year long. We kinda knew this is kinda what we've expected, so it's definitely nice to reach that goal. Definitely kinda play to potential and win games like we should. We were glad that we were able to do that. Tonight was probably the most excited that we've been after a game, after a win, because it was a grind. That wasn't an easy win right there. Our hitters fought. Pitchers threw well. We had three guys between me and Leibrandt and Gage that threw well. Everybody battled. So I think the feeling, being all happy and everything, was more because we walked away from a battle out there. We survived it and we won, so there was nothing more really to ask for."
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.
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