Seminoles tabbed NCAA Tourney's top seed

FSU, 56-12 and atop the national polls, learned Monday it will host a four-team NCAA Regional at Dick Howser Stadium. The news gets better. Win that, and the 'Noles will welcome the winner of the regional held in South Bend., Ind., for super-regional play. Still, the Seminoles know the road to the College World Series is an uphill climb -- and it begins against Stetson. "Tough regional," said Mike Futrell. "Maybe one of the toughest ones we've had so far. ... It's not going to be a cakewalk."

Mission Accomplished.

For the time being, that is.

Florida State (56-12) was selected Monday as the No. 1 overall seed in the 2002 NCAA Tournament Bracket. The Seminoles will host a four-team NCAA regional starting Friday at Dick Howser Stadium and, better yet, are in line to host the regional winner from South Bend, Ind., in super-regional play the following weekend.

FSU opens against fourth-seeded Stetson, while second-seeded Central Florida and No. 3 seed South Florida tangle in the other opening-round game of the double-elimination tournament.

"That's what we've worked for all year to accomplish, the fact that we are the No. 1 seed," FSU coach Mike Martin said. "All that means I am even par before I tee it up. That's mean nothing. You still got to go play the course. Let's line up and see what happens."

The Seminoles, winners of both the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and regular-season titles, gathered to watch the announcement at Dick Howser Stadium Monday before practice. While FSU has won 22 consecutive games to tie a school record and plowed through its conference tournament in St. Petersburg, the Seminoles realize the journey to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., is an uphill climb.

Stetson (42-17) features Atlantic Sun Conference Baseball Player of the Year in sophomore catcher Chris Westervelt, who ranks among the conference leaders in nine offensive categories, including a league-best 143 total bases. The Hatters, coached by Pete Dunn, also have a stellar lefty in Roger Lincoln, who led the league in victories (12) and stands among the conference leaders in strikeouts, appearances, ERA and saves.

UCF (40-20), meanwhile, rallied from a 4-0 deficit to defeat Florida Atlantic 8-6 and claim the 2002 Atlantic Sun Conference Baseball Championship for the second consecutive year last Saturday. South Florida (33-27) was upended by East Carolina in semifinal play of the Conference USA Tournament last week.

"The biggest surprise of the pairings was Stetson being a four seed," Martin admitted. "I thought Stetson was one of the better teams in the country and could very well be a (No.) two seed. But for them to be a four seed surprised me because I know how talented this Stetson team is."

FSU faced nine teams in the NCAA tournament and compiled a 22-9 record, including 5-0 against national No. 2 seed Clemson, 2-2 versus seventh-seeded Wake Forest and 1-2 against No. 8 Stanford. Martin said the last time the Seminoles were a top seed was in 1991, when teams were seeded following regional play. Four of the five ACC teams selected will host their respective regionals this weekend.

FSU players were just thankful to be back in the friendly confines of Dick Howser Stadium, where the Seminoles are 34-4 this season.

The regional field is certainly familiar to players and fans. FSU stands 111-38 overall against the trio. The Seminoles also have enjoyed NCAA success against the group at Dick Howser Stadium -- 2-1 against Central Florida in 200, 1-0 against USF in 1997 and 1-0 against Stetson in 1992. Additionally, UCF features pitcher Nick Whidden, the brother of current FSU reliever Chris Whidden. Nick Whidden transferred from FSU following last season.

"Tough one. Tough regional," senior outfielder Mike Futrell said. "Maybe one of the toughest ones we've had so far. When you have Stetson coming in here as a four seed, that's pretty rough. It's not going to be a cakewalk. Right now we have a pretty tough road and you can't look past any games, especially this week because any of those teams can beat you on any given day. It's going to be a fun one. "

FSU pitching coach Jamey Shouppe said his starting rotation won't change this weekend -- Matt Lynch (13-1, 3.08 ERA), Blair Varnes (8-3, 2.95 ERA) and Marc LaMacchia (10-1, 3.29) are the three lead horses. Trent Peterson (4-2, 3.31) and Robby Read (8-1, 5.27) also notched tournament victories, while Daniel Hodges (3-1, 2.56) anchors the bullpen with 11 saves.

"Three tough teams, man, we play a hard regional," Varnes said. "But no matter who it was, we have to all play our best game anyway and not worry about who it is and not worry about it. To be honest, I thought we would get Florida at Super-Regional -- that was going to be scary. I feel confident against any team here but I didn't want to face them and I am glad we aren't. But we can't worry about that. We have to get ready for what's in front of us."

Outfielder Nick Rogers (.338, 8 HR, 61 RBI) said he will be ready for the regional after sitting out the ACC Tourney as he continued to recover from a sore right thumb. "I will be ready even if they have to cut it off," Rogers said and laughed. Also Monday, shortstop Stephen Drew was named the league's Rookie of the Year. Drew enters the regional hitting a team-best .383.

Martin, meanwhile, continues to praise his team's poised approach, saying he's not worried about chatter that his team has peaked too early or it will come apart at the seams if it runs into regional struggles. If FSU survives and advances, it could face the last team to beat it -- South Alabama. The Jags, a 6-5 winner over FSU at Dick Howser Stadium on April 16, are the top seed at Notre Dame. The field also includes Ohio State and Kent State.

Last year, FSU was upended in super-regional play at Georgia.

"We got a club that's experienced," Martin said.

"We got a club that has been around the block. As Chip Baker says, this is not their first rodeo. This is a club that has played in the toughest league in the country. They've played Miami, Florida. They've played other clubs that are in post-season play. It's not a club that's going to panic if something happens in a negative way. We know what we have to do. We are not the least bit concerned about anything except about playing the best baseball we can play.

"Even the winning streak, I don't think these guys are even concerned about it. They are concerned about one thing, winning the game against Stetson."

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