Scott Sitz allowed Florida State to live another day.
The junior right hander notched career highs with 103 pitches over 6 2/3 innings to lead FSU to a 4-1 victory over UCLA in its second elimination game Tuesday.
Sitz surrendered no base runners through a perfect three frames to start the game, but UCLA pressured the Seminoles with a no-out jam in the sixth. Keeping the bases juiced after knocking in the Bruins' first run with a rope up the middle, Cody Keefer represented the tying run at first.
Hurt in similar situations over the course of the season, Sitz turned completely to his breaking ball. He struck out each of the next three Bruins swinging, fanning Pat Valaika on a full count with the runners in motion before hopping off the mound in jubilation.
"Just a great feeling to get those three outs," said a low-key Sitz following the game. "I was really happy they had faith in me to get those outs, because I know we had guys in the bullpen that could come in and get the job done. I was really happy with that and that I got out of the situation with only giving up one run."
The Neptune Beach (FL) Fletcher High School graduate relied on his slider as much as he ever has in the past.
"That was probably the best I've ever thrown my breaking ball all year," he said. "I honestly have been working on it all year. I guess I finally found everything that I was doing wrong and fixed it and came up with some quality pitches tonight."
Usually a quiet young man, Sitz's energetic tear back to the dugout following the third strikeout even surprised teammate Sherman Johnson.
"If you know Scotty, he's not really like that," Johnson said. "He's not really an emotional guy. But to see him when he's on the mound and to see him get emotional like that, it's awesome. And it's a big lift for our team, especially in the dugout."
UCLA starter Zack Weiss, on the other hand, lasted only a third of an inning, struggling mightily to find the strike zone from the outset. After Jayce Boyd drew a free pass to load the bases in the first, Weiss walked Stephen McGee on four pitches to hand FSU an early 1-0 lead. UCLA coach John Savage replaced Weiss with Grant Watson, who proceeded to walk Justin Gonzalez for the Seminoles' second run. The Bruins averted further damage when Josh Delph rolled into a double play on the first pitch he saw to end the first.
After grounding out with the bases loaded in the second, Boyd looked to redeem himself in the same situation in the fourth. This time, he surprised everyone by laying down a perfect -- and unexpected -- bunt down the third base line to score Johnson. On the play, UCLA third baseman Kevin Kramer overran the ball after failing to snatch the slow roller with his bare hand, which allotted Devon Travis enough time to slide safely into home all the way from second.
"I've been struggling at the plate a little bit," admitted Boyd, "haven't gotten very good swings on the ball. I told [third base coach Mike Martin Jr.], ‘If that third baseman's even a step behind the bag, I'm laying one down.' I don't even think the pitch that I bunted was anywhere near the strike zone, but I knew the element of surprise would have been gone if I let it go by. Just try to lay down the good bunt so the pitcher couldn't field it. We got two runs across with it and got two runners in scoring position after that."
One of those two runners was James Ramsey, who advanced to third when Kramer's attempt to nail Travis at home scooted by Bruins catcher Tyler Heineman. Heineman prevented the ‘Noles from adding any more by picking Ramsey off third when the Florida State captain started for home after misreading a bounce to the backstop.
In the eighth, Bruins right fielder Jeff Gelalich dropped a Seth Miller shot down the line, allowing Miller to reach second. Jose Brizuela bunted him to third, but Johnson's fly ball to right fell too short and Gelalich took advantage, gunning Miller out at home with a perfect outfield assist to squash a potential sacrifice RBI.
Hunter Scantling replaced Sitz in the seventh and combined with Robert Benincasa to throw 2 1/3 shutout innings of relief. Benincasa retired the final three batters in order to officially eliminate the Bruins.
Florida State now returns its focus back to Arizona, as the Seminoles must defeat the Wildcats -- they downed FSU in 12 innings in the opener in Omaha -- twice to earn a trip to the finals.
Coach Mike Martin summed up the win that advanced the ‘Noles to the final four teams still standing in the College World Series.
"We all know that pitching was definitely the key to the game," said Martin. "Scotty was just outstanding. Hunter came in and did a great job, and then Benny finished it up. No question the sixth inning was the big inning that Scotty showed that his nickname is evident, because he was a bulldog. You get the bases loaded against a team as talented as UCLA and get a run in and get out of it is just a credit to him. Certainly, it was big for us. Jayce laid down the big bunt, and Devon did such a great job of being heads up and rounding the bag. I've been trying to do this a good while, and, man, I'd love to take credit for that. But Jayce did it on his own. It was an outstanding night. It was a team win, but certainly it was dictated by the outstanding pitcher."
FSU needs another outstanding start Thursday, as Brandon Leibrandt will make his second attempt at taking down the Wildcats.
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.
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