Florida State captured the Tallahassee Regional and picked up its 16th consecutive regional victory in the process, downing Samford 5-2 Sunday night.
One of the very few veterans on a young Seminole roster, catcher Stephen McGee attributed the streak and the recent high level of play to the do-or-die nature of the postseason.
"I think a lot of it is we come back to our home place," McGee said. "We really get a crowd for regionals, and that gets us going. But also it's the playoffs, and once we get to that playoffs state of mind we all come in just at war. No mercy. We go at it for nine innings every day."
Facing C.K. Irby, who closed out the ninth inning for Samford in the afternoon elimination game versus Mississippi State, the ‘Noles broke out with an early offensive outburst that provided enough runs to secure the victory.
Jayce Boyd led the charge with a single through the first base hole to start the second. McGee followed by drawing a four-pitch walk, and Justin Gonzalez moved both up one base with a perfect sacrifice bunt to first. On an 0-2 curveball, Josh Delph managed to ground a single up the middle, scoring two, and eventually came home on a Jose Brizuela sacrifice fly to deep right to stretch the lead to 3-0.
"I was just thinking about letting the ball get as deep as possible so I could see it," Delph said. "If it was a fastball, I was going to just foul it off to the left side. I struck out twice [Saturday] night on curveballs, so I wanted to make sure it got deep. And I saw it well and just used my hands well."
The Seminoles kept their foot on the gas in the third, welcoming relief pitcher Tyler Vanderheiden to the game by immediately loading the bases. McGee then stretched the lead to 5-0 by fisting a soft liner over second baseman Zeth Stone to score Devon Travis and James Ramsey.
Seminole starter Mike Compton earned his 11th win of the season -- the most by an FSU freshman since Sean Gilmartin picked up 12 in 2009.
Besides the two runs scored by the Bulldogs in the fifth, largely due to a throwing error by Gonzalez that pulled Boyd too far off the bag, Compton pitched excellent. He kept Samford off balance with his fastball-slider combination, mixing in the changeup to strike out five Bulldogs in six innings of work.
Sherman Johnson prevented the Bulldogs from cutting the lead any more in the fifth by initiating a smooth double play on a sharp grounder off the bat of the speedy Stone. The pair of Johnson and Travis also killed Samford's hopes of a rally in the sixth with yet another inning-ending twin killing.
Compton appreciated the help his defense provided behind him.
"It's difficult to make all your pitches count," he said, "but when you do miss and you get a groundball like [Stone's in the 5th] that's hit really hard like that, and [Johnson is] able to turn it so smoothly, I think it gets the whole team pumped up. It definitely got me pumped up."
Gage Smith joined the fun with another solid appearance out of the bullpen. The mustachioed sidearmer threw two hitless frames, picking Brandon Miller off second base in the seventh on a controversial call to spoil Samford's last realistic hope at a comeback.
Robert Benincasa entered in the ninth to the delight of the FSU faithful and proceeded to retire the first three Bulldogs he faced to pick up his 15th save.
Four Seminoles -- Johnson, Ramsey, Delph and Brandon Leibrandt -- were named to the All-Regional Team, while Ramsey was chosen as the Most Outstanding Player for the second straight year.
Dating back to before the season, Ramsey boldly stated that outsiders' expectations for the team were the worst he could remember, but the only important factor was the team's ability to catch fire in June. He repeated the sentiment following a Friday win over NC State in the last series of the regular season.
"My first interview I did on August 16th or whatever, I got asked about the expectations for the season and I said we're gonna peak in June," he said at the time. "And that's something I got from one of my high school coaches, that we always had great teams and we didn't win state my sophomore, junior year. We had the best team in the state, and we would go out and roll 20 wins off in a row, and we would somehow come up short -- ball wouldn't bounce our way. And I said, 'Heck, we just gotta peak in June.' It doesn't matter we've only lost one series to this point. If we lose a second one, I mean, are we really gonna look back on it in a long time and tell us that these losses really affected us? We lost four series last year and at least four the year we went to Omaha (2010). So these young guys need to know that it's OK. We're gonna lose some games. But if we peak in June, last time I checked, it's not yet June, and we're going to just continue to grind this thing out."
Now it's June, and the Seminoles just played possibly their best weekend of baseball all season.
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.
FSU wraps up regional to advance
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