Friday night's conclusion was far from what Florida State had hoped for, dropping an extra-inning affair to Arizona 4-3.
FSU pushed the tying run to third base in the bottom of the 12th, but after a prolonged at-bat, Devon Travis eventually went down swinging to cancel Garnet and Gold hopes for an opening-game victory.
One loss from elimination, many wonder whether this Seminole squad can overcome the hangover from such a deflating defeat to avoid falling short again.
Throughout the season, the ‘Noles showcased their resilience, particularly following a tough home loss to the rival Gators. Instead of collapsing, FSU went on to win 12 of its next 13, including sweeps over tough Miami and Rhode Island programs to stay on track.
But for the Seminoles to right the ship, they must improve their game in a couple of key areas.
The ever-reliable defense -- particularly the infield -- has to find its game again in a hurry. A team that looked so sharp in the friendly confines of Dick Howser Stadium made two uncharacteristic errors Friday and also appeared shaky on a few plays that were completed. The defense bailed the freshmen pitchers out of jams all year, but with a defensive presence absent, the ‘Noles are in a world of trouble.
FSU's bats managed to make frequent solid contact against Arizona's Kurt Heyer but never managed to really cash in for a big inning. The old saying that a team's best players must play their best definitely holds true here, as captain James Ramsey and first baseman Jayce Boyd need to produce at the plate.
Having utilized Gage Smith and Robert Benincasa for extending innings Friday out of necessity, Freshman All-American Mike Compton must pitch as deep as possible into Sunday's game to save FSU from forcing a reliever that hasn't pitched recently to come out of the bullpen.
We can expect Compton to rely on his fastball-slider combination and also attempt to change the eye level of hitters, a method that served him so well throughout the year.
Now turning its attention to the Stony Brook Seawolves, the darlings of Omaha who took down the Hurricanes in the Miami Regional and LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional, FSU has a different problem to consider.
Talent-wise, Stony Brook is arguably one of the best clubs in Omaha. The Seawolves won a nation-best 52 games this season, with seven players selected in the MLB first-year player draft. In addition, Stony Brook possesses the country's second-highest team batting average at .335.
"[Stony Brook] is a beautiful baseball team," Florida State coach Mike Martin said following the 4-3 loss to the Wildcats. "Seven players drafted is clear evidence that they are very, very talented. We know that we're going to have our work cut out for us. We know that both teams are going to be looking at going home. Neither team wants to go home. That's an exciting day for college baseball. I know one thing, both teams will be out there getting after it."
A key for FSU is Compton and the rest of the pitching staff's ability to shut down a fiery Seawolves lineup, anchored by center fielder Travis Jankowsi, whose .416 average and 109 hits boosted him to the 44th pick overall in the draft by the Padres. Infielders William Carmona and Maxx Tissenbaum pose a threat as well, with both boasting an average over .390. Carmona also racked up 12 home runs this season.
Stony Brook's probable starter Sunday is Brandon McNitt, who went 8-3 in 2012 with a 2.50 ERA.
UCLA crushed the Seawolves 9-1 in the first game at TD Ameritrade Park Friday, jumping out with five quick runs in the first. An early lead for FSU would go a long way in settling down a bunch that needs to return to its own brand of loose baseball, characterized by smooth defense and timely hitting.
Sherman Johnson admitted the loss at the hands of the Wildcats was tough to swallow, but he also revealed the Seminoles' new mindset going forward.
"It was a tough game," said Johnson. "But in the huddle, Coach [Martin] was talking about what South Carolina did two years ago when they lost their first game, and he was just saying, ‘Why cant it be us?' And I think that was the mindset everybody is going to take on coming forward. It's tough, but we'll forget about it and we'll be ready to go Sunday."
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.
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