Timely defense gives the ‘Noles a lift

FSU discovered baseball's humbling nature in the ACC Tournament as opposing teams took advantage of simple mistakes to send the ‘Noles home winless. But in the opener of the Tallahassee Regional on Friday, a day when the bats stayed relatively quiet, Florida State found a way to oust Conference USA champion UAB 2-1 thanks to an all-around clutch performance, particularly on defense.

After UAB tied the game at one in the fifth and threatened to take the lead with a runner on third and only one out, the ‘Noles opted to replace starter Scott Sitz, who fell one short of matching his career high by striking out eight Blazers, with Gage Smith.

Based off their recent play, the ‘Noles seemed destined at this point to fall behind and eventually lose, but Sherman Johnson came up with the play of the year, possibly saving the Seminoles' season.

UAB third baseman Patrick Palmeiro, the son of Rafael Palmeiro, sent a high bouncer toward third that appeared impossible for Johnson to reach, but the third baseman leapt, snagged the ball out of mid air, landed, and in one motion fired a strike to home to nail Ivan De Jesus attempting to score the go ahead run.

"We were in cutting off the run," Johnson said. "and when he hit it I was just like try to catch it and when I caught it I was like we are in so I have to throw home. To be honest with you, I thought he was going to beat it but that was the only play we had. We were in for a reason so I just threw it. When we got the play I realized it was a big play and Gage got us out of it."

"That was great," Smith added. "Honest that was high. He got up there. I was pumped after that. I was ready to go. That was such a big play. We had a bunch of key defensive plays. Our defense played great. It's not hard pitching when you got them behind you."

FSU responded by retaking the lead in the bottom of the frame.

With two outs and Johnson on first, UAB starter Michael Busby started toward the UAB dugout after he thought his pitch to James Ramsey caught the inside corner for what would have been the third strike. Instead, home plate umpire Tony Carilli correctly awarded Ramsey ball one, and the captain followed by ripping a double to the left field gap to score the hustling Johnson and give the Garnet and Gold a 2-1 lead they never relinquished.

Smith threw 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief despite the nine stitches sown onto his bottom lip after walking in the way of Stephen McGee practicing his swing in the mirror prior to the game. In the sixth, Jayce Boyd aided Smith with an amazing backhanded pick to complete an inning ending twin killing after the Blazers put pressure on the Seminoles by opening the frame with consecutive singles.

Robert Benincasa picked up his 14th save of the season by forcing Palmeiro to pop up to third to end the game with the tying run 90 feet from home.

UAB clearly planned to utilize its starter Michael Busby to the maximum, throwing him a career high 126 pitches through eight innings while effectively allowing only five FSU hits.

But Ramsey single-handedly beat Busby by driving in all of the Seminole runs for the third time this season, scoring Sherman Johnson twice.

FSU jumped in front in the third by staying strong at the plate while behind in the count.

Both Johnson and Devon Travis drew walks after battling back from down 0-2 to set up a Ramsey's RBI single through the first base hole, also on a 0-2 count, to take an early 1-0 lead.

The single marked Ramsey's 51st RBI of the season.

"They're very tough to put away," said Busby. "and when it comes down to it, I didn't make the pitches with two strikes when I needed to. Ramsey got the big hit. I got 0-2 and I didn't make the pitch I needed to."

Travis kept the Blazers off the board in the fourth by preventing a tough Keith DePew chopper up the middle from reaching the outfield, which only allowed Jeff Schalk to advance from second to third instead of scoring easily had the ball trickled through.

The win extended the Seminoles streak to 14 consecutive victories in regional play. The ‘Noles will square off with Samford, who downed Mississippi State by launching four homers in the early Friday contest, in the winners bracket game at 7 PM on Saturday.

To win versus Samford, FSU needs its bats to come alive.

But the difference today was sound defense and strong pitching, a formula the ‘Noles must consistently stick to if they want a chance to make a run at a trip to Omaha.

"We played really fundamental baseball today," Ramsey said. "We went back to Florida State baseball and that's the way its gotta be from here on out."

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