A tip of the cap

While FSU had made a habit of winning with the big inning this season, it couldn't duplicate the feat Monday against Notre Dame. The stinging defeat left the Seminoles' seniors searching for answers. Ryan Barthelemy admitted to feeling the pressure late in the game. "When you are facing stuff like that, adversity, though we've faced it before, it's tough not to be kind of knocked back by the fact that this could be your last at-bat you have as a Seminole. It's tough to swallow," he said.

Any chance of a ninth-inning rally against Notre Dame rested on the shoulders of three Florida State seniors -- Nick Rogers, Richie Smith and Mike Futrell. While the Seminoles had made a habit of winning with the big inning this season, they couldn't duplicate that feat against the Irish Monday at Dick Howser Stadium.

Notre Dame reliever J.P. Gagne struck out Rogers, Smith and Futrell swinging in the ninth inning to secure Notre Dame's 3-1 victory over FSU before a stunned crowd of 5,195.

Notre Dame (49-16) has won 31 of its last 35 as it heads to the College World Series and a first-round game against Stanford. The Irish were last in the CWS in 1957. For the Seminoles, meanwhile, it was a disappointing ending to a season filled with hope. FSU, which finished 60-14, came into the weekend against the Irish with a 25-game winning streak. The Seminoles were also eliminated in Super Regional play last season in three games at Georgia.

"They played a great game," said Rogers, who played at nearby Tallahassee Community College before transferring to FSU two years ago. "They played hard. It just wasn't one of those things meant to be, I guess. We never said we are giving up. We never threw in the towel. I don't know. We all had confidence. We were all positive in the dugout the whole time. It just didn't happen today. You have to tip your cap to them. They deserve to be going to the World Series."

FSU was sent packing by freshman right-hander Chris Niesel, who allowed one run in eight innings. The former prep All-American from St. Thomas Aquinas High in Plantation, Fla., had the Seminoles off balance by working ahead and spotting his fastball, Rogers said.

"He spotted his fastball really well," Rogers said. "He wasn't necessarily keeping us off balance but he didn't stick to a pattern. He didn't consistently pitch outside. He just kind of changed everything up. He was a good pitcher. He was really effective."

Trailing 3-0, FSU appeared poised for a big inning in the top of the eighth.

Bryan Zech led off the frame with a double. Niesel struck out Stephen Drew, but issued a walk to Tony McQuade. In what could have been a defining moment for struggling Ryan Barthelemy simply turned into more disappointment -- he popped out to shortstop Javier Sanchez.

"I haven't swung the bat well -- I can't remember the last time I have," Barthelemy said. "I was trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark. I was acting like an immature hitter. That's not something I should have done but it's all or nothing this part of the season. You have to try to take it in your own hands. I tried to do it but it didn't work out for me."

FSU finally got on the board in the eighth when Tony Richie sliced a single off the screen. Jerrod Brown fouled off three straight pitches before launching a line drive down the third base line, which curved foul. Irish left fielder Brian Stavisky made a wonderful sliding catch in foul territory in front of the bullpen to retire Brown and end the inning.

And the Seminoles' hopes.

Barthelemy also didn't have an answer for the Seminoles' lack of offense. They finished with just seven hits and the top three batters -- Drew, McQuade and Barthelemy -- went a combined 0-for-9. FSU also hit into double plays in the sixth and seventh innings. Richie was the only player who had an answer for Niesel, finishing with three hits.

"I really don't know what it was about him (Niesel)," Barthelemy said. "It was just something. He didn't have a spectacular pitch per say to point out. Just everything he did. He mixed it up well. He threw strikes. He worked ahead of the count. It was tough for us to get in a groove, pair a couple hits together. We never got two consecutive hits all day, I don't think. He just kept us off balance."

Barthelemy also believed the Seminoles -- himself included -- panicked as time began running out in the later innings. FSU stranded seven runners in the game.

"I wouldn't say early on but later in the game people started panicking a little bit," Barthelemy said.

"Like, we need to do this now. We don't have time to wait around. I would say a little panic set in later in the game. It's tough to not panic, when this could be the last game of the season and could be the last game of your career for some people. It's tough not to get a sense of urgency but you are only human. There was a little bit of panic. From me, too. I was a little shaken up. I was nervous. When you are facing stuff like that, adversity, though we've faced it before, it's tough not to be kind of knocked back by the fact that this could be your last at-bat you have as a Seminole. It's tough to swallow."

The defeat left the Seminoles wondering if they had left a golden opportunity slip away.

"It's hard to say we didn't have a successful season, but that's how I feel," Barthelemy said. "We didn't accomplish our final goal, which was to get to Omaha and have success there. But we did have a successful season, as much as it's hard to say with the outcome."

Fellow senior Mike Futrell agreed.

"We never got it going," Futrell said. "We thought we would get something going and we would hit into a double play. I did that. It hurts more than anything, knowing a double play kills you. But we had fun. It was a great year. Everybody had a blast. He (Niesel) just kept us off baance. I didn't think it would be as close as it was, but it came out on their end. He (FSU head coach Mike Martin) was good. He felt as bad as we did. It hurts.

"There's not much you can say to a team that played as hard as we did and won as many games as we did and fell a game short of going to the World Series. Notre Dame came in and did what it had to do. we didn't play very well today. We didn't get hits when we needed them. We gave it our best shot. They just came in very confident, and they beat us."

Rogers was still shaking his head in disbelief -- as well as signing autographs for a crowd of children -- 30 minutes after the game. FSU simply couldn't take advantage of its opportunities.

"I thought for sure we would get there (CWS). I don't know," Rogers said. "We were close both years. We were lucky enough just to make the super regional. We had a tough regional. We were lucky enough to make it to the final game both years. I've had a great time here at Florida State, and I couldn't think of anything different."


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