Ready to Rock 'n' Roll

Top-ranked FSU is poised to take its first step towards a return visit to the CWS. The Seminoles are rolling on all cylinders, from pitching (3.85 ERA) to hitting (.316) to confidence (22-game winning streak to tie a school record). While heroes abound, from a trio of starters who have combined for 31 victories to the ACC's Rookie of the Year in Stephen Drew, FSU plans to lean on each other as well as their fans. "It just seems like everything is meshing for us," Mike Futrell said."This is fun."

Heroes abound when discussing reasons behind Florida State's success this season.

Senior Mike Futrell, for instance, didn't hesitate when asked about the Seminoles' (56-12) torrid play. FSU carries a 22-game winning streak and the nation's top-ranking into Friday's NCAA Regional opener against Stetson (42-17) at Dick Howser Stadium at 7 p.m. Central Florida (40-20) and South Florida (33-27) meet in the first game at 3 p.m.

FSU enters as the NCAA Tournament's top seed and also is in line to host a super-regional next weekend in its quest to return to the College World Series. The 'Noles, eliminated in a super-regional at Georgia a year ago, are 34-4 at home this season.

"A lot of it has been the pitching -- it has been amazing," Futrell said. "Since I've been here, I haven't seen anybody pitch as well. They've been a huge lift for us and they are proving everyone wrong. They've worked so hard, busting their butts since fall practice."

Starters Matt Lynch, Blair Varnes and Marc LaMacchia have developed into an impressive rotation, combining for 31 victories. Daniel Hodges (11 saves) and Kevin Lynch have anchored the bullpen, while Trent Peterson (4-2, 3.31 ERA, Daniel Davidson (6-0, 4.07 ERA) and Robby Read (8-1, 5.27) have also made key contributions.

Matt Lynch, who is scheduled to start against the Hatters, hasn't lost since March 3 at Wake Forest and improved to 13-1 with a complete-game victory over Clemson in the ACC Tournament. It was the lefty's third complete game and lowered his ERA to 3.08.

Varnes, meanwhile, tossed a complete game in a 5-2 tourney win against Wake Forest. The crafty senior relied on his changeup and control, throwing 75 strikes (108 pitches). Varnes (8-3, 3.95 ERA) has not lost since March 24 at North Carolina and has 39 career victories. LaMacchia, meanwhile, earned his 10th victory in the championship game against Clemson, tossing a season-best eight innings and only giving up one run. LaMacchia sports a 3.29 ERA.

FSU pitching coach Jamey Shouppe, who has called the Seminoles' staff "good but not great" the entire season, is quick to say he has been pleased with his staff's progress.

"I've said all season, one thing I'll go back on, that we didn't have one go-to, stud guy that was a potential high draft (pick)," Shouppe said. "Matt Lynch may have developed into that. The verdict is still out on that every time he goes out, but he's proven he's capable of that.

"I've also said all year long that we know what Blair Varnes is. Blair Varnes is a guy that's gonna pitch with his heart every time he goes out, and now mechanically he's where he needs to be to be effective. The third thing I said was, who's got the best stuff on our staff? Marc LaMacchia. I said that from day one. He's a 92 (mph) with sink. He's got a good curveball and a good changeup. He's got the best stuff on our staff."

While FSU's starters have been one key behind the Seminoles' impressive play, Futrell is quick to point out a few other key factors as well -- FSU's hitting and the stellar play of freshman shortstop Stephen Drew.

"We are starting to swing the bats, too," Futrell said. "If the top half of the order isn't going real well, then the bottom half comes through -- and vice-a-versa. Everybody has confidence in each other. It just seems like everything is meshing for us. Plus, Stephen Drew. Jeez, the guy's insane. I mean, we are just playing very well and we need to keep it going."

Indeed.

FSU has certainly hit in the clutch, knocking in an amazing 216 runs with two outs (opponents have pushed across 99). Also, the Seminoles are hitting .309 with two outs, .350 with runners on, .354 with runners in scoring position and .379 with bases loaded. FSU's opponents are below .267 in each category. During FSU's 22-game winning streak, the numbers are as follows: 94 two-out RBI, .350 two-out batting average, .382 with runners on, .412 with runners in scoring position and .422 with bases loaded.

When FSU loads the bases, there hasn't been anyone better than first baseman Jerrod Brown. Brown is 12-for-15 (.800) with bases loaded this season. Nick Rogers also has been successful with the bases juiced, hitting .529 (9-for-17).

Catcher Tony Richie is the Seminoles' top run producer with two outs with 34 RBI. First baseman Ryan Barthelemy is next with 30 two-out RBI. (Bart also is riding an 18-game hitting streak). Drew (,571, 24-for-42) and Richie (.420, 34-for-81) are the team's top two hitters with runners in scoring position.

FSU also has been winning with the big inning, scoring five or more runs in an inning 26 times this season, a total that includes three five-run innings at the ACC Tourney.

Of course, Drew's importance also hasn't gone unnoticed. He was named the ACC Rookie of the Year on Monday and leads the team in batting (.383). Drew has had two walk-off home runs this year (Miami and Maryland). Looking for consistency? He has homered and collected at least two hits in the five games this season that followed a hitless game. Defensively, Drew, who missed 28 games with a fractured foot earlier in the year, has 123 assists and just six errors.

Overall, it's easy to see why the Seminoles are playing so well. Just in case any doubt remains, Futrell added: " "We have been playing great -- we don't fear anyone," Futrell said. "This is fun. We are at home, where we wanted to be with our great fans. We are excited to get going."


Nole Digest Top Stories