Good as Gold

Late March wasn't a good time for the Seminoles. They dropped five of seven and players were "at each other's throats," according to senior Mike Futrell. But that has all changed. FSU is on a roll, finishing the month of April 13-2, as it heads into the regular-season's bell lap. "I like this team," Futrell said. "We are not going to back down to anybody."

Florida State opened March with a bang, winning 11 of 12 games. The Seminoles abruptly lost their momentum, however, dropping five of their next seven -- including an Atlantic Coast Conference sweep at North Carolina. They ended the month with a pair of defeats at Wake Forest as well.

"That was not a good time," senior FSU outfielder Mike Futrell said.

In fact, many questioned the Seminoles' spirit during that tailspin. It was also obvious that some players were struggling with their roles.

"When we hit that bad slump, it seemed like everybody was at each other's throats or we weren't believing in ourselves," Futrell said. "When we tried to get things going and it didn't happen, we kind of gave up. We have kind of fought through that. We don't give up now and guys are adjusting to everything (roles) and now believe in themselves."

Futrell points to the Miami series as the turning point for the Seminoles. FSU won two of three against the Hurricanes at Dick Howser Stadium April 3-5, and then swept UM in Coral Gables a week later. The Seminoles swept North Carolina State at home last weekend to finish April 13-2.

"That Miami series was a big series for us," Futrell said."That series got some guys going and gave us a lot of confidence. It proved to us that you have to go out and play hard because anybody can beat you on any given day."

FSU (41-12, 9-6) also has won seven straight heading into Friday's home game against neighbor Florida A&M. The game marks the first meeting between the two schools since 1979.The Seminoles will start right-hander Robby Read, who looks to bounce back from a Sunday appearance against the Wolfpack in which he surrendered three earned runs on four hits in 1.1 innings as a starter.

Following the A & M game, the Seminoles will take Saturday off before playing host to Duke (21-24, 3-12) for a three-game series that runs through Tuesday. FSU enters the stretch run of the regular-season full of confidence. The Seminoles' Sunday victory over the Wolfpack also did wonders for their psyche -- FSU erupted for seven runs in the seventh inning to erase a 9-4 deficit. The 'Noles held on for a 12-11 victory.

Futrell also points to the Seminoles' depth as a strength. Thirteen position players have double-digit starts.

"I like this team," Futrell said. "That game (Sunday) showed our fight. We are not going to back down to anybody."

That's a good thing, too. FSU closes its home schedule with a three-game series against last-place Maryland (28-19, 3-15) May 10-12 before traveling to top-ranked Clemson (38-6, 12-3). The ACC Tournament, May 21-26 in St. Petersburg, also means much more to the Seminoles this season. The NCAA Baseball Committee will wait until May 26 to announce the 16 regional sites.

The ACC currently boasts three teams ranked in Baseball America's top 10 -- Clemson, No. 3 Wake Forest and No. 5 FSU. The rankings found on are intended to duplicate the NCAA's formula for weighing strength of schedule, winning percentage and other factors. Clemson ranks No. 1, followed by Wake Forest.

FSU (fifth), Georgia Tech (sixth) and North Carolina (11th) are the other ACC teams ranked in the top 25. FSU currently stands fourth in the standings behind Clemson, Wake Forest and North Carolina (34-15, 13-5).

"I think it goes without saying that the ACC is probably the nation's best conference," Futrell said. "I know it's the best I have seen since I've been here.And that's good for all of us."

On the injury front, senior Blair Varnes, who sat out the N.C. State series with right shoulder problems, is scheduled to pitch against Duke next Tuesday. Varnes was replaced in the starting rotation last week by Read. Also, reliever Eric Roman is expected to throw in practice by week's end after being shelved by shoulder problems.

Offensively, Ryan Barthelemy ranks in the ACC's top three in hits (76), RBI (67), doubles (20) and total bases (138). Of course, one of the team's bigger surprises has been the hitting of Blair McCaleb, whose grand slam in the seventh inning helped ignite FSU past N.C. State last Sunday.

"I was fresh (that game) and glad I was able to come through when we needed it," said McCaleb, who has split time as the Seminoles' designated hitter. "But I don't consider myself a home run hitter (smiling). I get lucky sometimes and I hit a home run. They come every now and then. We are feeling good about ourselves, playing with a lot of confidence. We just need to keep it going."

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