It took a total of 12 innings for Florida State to realize that the road to the College World Series finals just became a whole lot tougher.
In extras and with the score knotted at three, closer Robert Benincasa tossed three absolutely dominant innings, even striking out the Wildcat side in the 11th. But in the 12th, Joey Rickard and Johnny Field laced consecutive doubles off Benincasa to grab Arizona a 4-3 lead, a total that barely held.
The ‘Noles battled until the end but came up just short, as Mathew Troupe fanned Devon Travis with a four-seam fastball on a full count for the final out, stranding Seth Miller only 90 feet away from home plate.
"To be honest, I don't really remember the first pitches of that at-bat," Troupe said. "Kind of a blur. But the last pitch, the last pitch, I have been in that position a couple times during the season. One that comes to mind is Oregon State. With a 3-2 count, I notice that the hitters, they don't want to look. They don't want to strike out looking, so they're kind of swinging. I just wanted to make sure I threw a strike, and I knew my defense would help me. They're outstanding. So, yeah, actually turned around and checked the screen after I threw it, and it did look like it moved. I guess I cut it a little bit. I don't really try to do that. But, yeah, it was a fastball."
With a hoarse voice, coach Mike Martin proudly defended the fight in his FSU bunch.
"That's what this game is all about, is never giving in," said Martin. "We had two strikes if I'm not mistaken when we got on base in the 12th. Sherman [Johnson] kept battling and had a good swing on the ball. And Devon's battling. Troupe makes a good pitch. That's why you sometimes can look at a game like this. It's over with. You move on to the next ballgame because we didn't kick the ball around and cost ourselves a bunch of runs. Arizona beat us. They did a good job. There's no finger pointing to any of our players. That's the way I feel. Our guys fought like crazy. We just happened to come up short."
Freshman Brandon Leibrandt started on the mound for the Seminoles and pitched like a grizzled veteran through the first two frames, but some awfully shaky defense cut Leibrandt's outing to just 4 1/3.
After Arizona scored its first run in the third off a Rickard base knock to right center, FSU shortstop Justin Gonzalez failed to snare a slow two-out chopper from Alex Mejia, allowing Rickard to safely reach second. He eventually crossed the plate when Robert Refsnyder ripped another single up the middle to make it 2-0.
Up until that point, the ‘Noles repeatedly connected well on quite a few Kurt Heyer pitches but failed to turn anything into runs.
That was until Johnson answered the Wildcats' two-run third with a solo dinger to right in the bottom of the frame. The long ball was Johnson's seventh career bomb in postseason play.
With runners on first and third in the fifth, Martin opted to replace Leibrandt with Gage Smith. Travis then made a tremendous diving stop on a ricochet off Jayce Boyd's glove, but the run scored easily from third. After additional shaky defense, FSU averted further damage by rolling a double play on Seth Mejias-Brean to end the inning.
For Arizona, Heyer lasted 7 2/3 frames, a mark reached by the St. Louis Cardinals draft pick in his previous 12 starts. The work of Heyer's replacements, Tyler Crawford and Troupe, won the game for Arizona, but coach Andy Lopez didn't show much faith in his ‘pen, stretching Heyer to 128 pitches.
The ‘Noles managed to even the score before Heyer's exit.
Boyd reached to open the sixth when a throw from third pulled first baseman Brandon Dixon off the bag and then moved to second on a Josh Delph walk. Rookie John Holland came through in the clutch by smacking a two-out, two-run double to the enormous gap in left to bring FSU even.
"Got down 0-2," Holland said, "but got to see [Heyer's] breaking ball and his fastball, so definitely knew what he had and what he was trying to throw. And then he left a pitch over the middle of the plate, and I was able to get a barrel on it."
In both the 10th and the 11th innings, the Garnet and Gold put the potential winning run on base.
After falling behind 2-0 to James Ramsey in the 10th with no outs and Travis already on first, Lopez's mound visit settled down Crawford, who countered with three straight strikes to sit Ramsey. Travis then attempted to take advantage of the new reliever, Troupe, but was caught stealing second on a failed hit-and-run play.
In the 11th, Gonzalez stroked a one-out knock to right, but then Troupe caught him leaning off first for the second out. Delph went down swinging the very next pitch to open the door for Arizona's 12th-inning rally.
Florida State has now dropped four consecutive openers in Omaha and falls to 1-7 in extra innings at the College World Series.
To reach the finals, Florida State must now win its next four showdowns, a difficult feat considering the extreme disappointment following Friday's deflating loss. But before even imagining a trip to the finals, the ‘Noles must eliminate Stony Brook on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. just to avoid an early flight back to Tallahassee.
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.
FSU drops its opener in Omaha again
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