Mike Martin went into the first game of the ACC Tournament hoping to get four or five solid innings from starting pitcher Billy Strode to ensure a fresh bullpen going into the rest of pool play.
Strode did that and more, pitching six shutout innings as the Seminoles built a comfortable 6-0 lead en route to a 7-1 victory. The junior lefty kept North Carolina off balance from the opening pitch, pounding the zone for 44 strikes in 71 pitches. "Strode just threw a ton of first pitch strikes," explained Carolina manager Mike Fox. "He kept his fastball down in the zone. He kept mixing his pitches well," added Tar Heel first baseman Alex Rayburn, "just pounded the zone and came right at us."
Shortstop Justin Gonzalez led the Noles at the plate, going 2-3 with a walk and a monstrous home run over the left field wall to open the bottom of the sixth inning. Gonzalez's home run carried well over 400 feet and the slugger acknowledged that it was a no-doubter, "As soon as I hit it, I put my head down, I knew it was gone."
John Nogowski also homered for the Seminoles, leading off the seventh inning with another solo shot to give FSU its final total.
Strode gave way to Gage Smith, who gave up a run on a Rayburn grounder through the left side in the seventh before pitching a clean eighth. Jameis Winston closed the game out for the Seminoles, allowing a walk before closing the game with a strikeout.
Martin was especially pleased with how Strode's effort allowed the Seminoles to set their pitching lineup for the rest of the week, noting that he took Strode out with a relatively low pitch count both to give his two star relievers some work and in the expectation that Strode would pitch again this weekend. "As much as anything, it was to get him out of the ballgame and have him ready to pitch again, possibly, in this tournament. But I can also say we did want Gage and Jaboo (Winston) to work."