Florida State preview, with bonus audio clips

Stanford baseball has plenty to prove during its titanic Super Regional clash at Florida State this weekend. A year removed from failure on a similar stage in North Carolina, the Cardinal look to prove they truly belong amongst college baseball's elite in a match-up of two teams that have both been ranked No. 1 this season.

Mark Marquess' squad will have to do it in the typically Southern, muggy conditions of Dick Howser Field. The Seminoles are 31-5 at home in 2012, and they'll be well-acclimated to their region's 90 degree weather and 70 percent humidity. Temperatures are only expected to drop into the lower 80s during the games, all scheduled for evening starts.

Cardinal ace Mark Appel, who may have a chip on his shoulder after slipping to No. 8 in Monday's MLB Draft, will kick off the action at 4 p.m. PST Friday. He'll toe the rubber against phenomenal Seminole lefty freshman Brandon Leibrandt, who has combined with fellow newbie Mike Compton to spearhead the top of the Florida State rotation with an 18-4 record. The two youngsters sport 2.65 and 2.78 earned run averages, respectively.

Stanford, however, is confident countering with Appel (2.27 ERA) and a bullpen that has demonstrated true capability as of late. Closer A.J. Vanegas was spectacular in 3.2 innings during the recent Palo Alto regional, striking out eight batters in that limited time. Junior Sahil Bloom notched the save Sunday over Pepperdine that sent the Cardinal to the Super Regional.

Stanford's Saturday and potential Sunday starters have not yet been announced as the staff prepares to face what will possibly be its most daunting test of the season. Mike Martin's Seminoles are one of the most patient clubs in the country. Florida State enjoys exhausting pitchers in the Southern humidity. As a team, they've drawn 346 walks, only one fewer than nation-leading New Mexico State and a whopping 134 more than the Cardinal. Collectively, the Seminoles boast a .402 on-base percentage.

The grind begins with the leadoff spot. Senior Sherman Johnson is the second-leading walker on the nation. He's drawn 63 free passes on the year. Superstar James Ramsey, drafted in the first round by the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, sports a .520 on-base percentage to go with a frightening .683 slugging clip, 13 home runs, and 55 RBIs. Ramsey is protected in the order by Seminole RBI leader Jayce Boyd, who has driven in 57 runs to complement his .390 average.

(Stanford's RBI leader Stephen Piscotty, by the way, was selected 36th overall by St. Louis after the franchise chose Ramsey, so its likely that the two will be minor league teammates this summer, a year after they both played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League.)

Stanford should be forewarned about Florida State: These guys will bleed them to death if Cardinal pitching is not sharp this weekend. To punch back, the Farm Boys will have to get after Leibrandt and Compton to alleviate the pressure on their pitching staff.

The Stanford offensive attack re-heated behind big contributions from nearly all of its starters this past weekend, and that confidence can be a major factor against nasty arms this weekend. Multi-run leads have been known to make it easier for pitchers to throw strikes, as well.

It's imperative that Stanford scores sooner rather than later, as the Seminoles have been excellent in the late innings: closer Robert Benincasa has given up only five earned runs all season long, just one during ACC regular season play). But while the junior's 48:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is off the charts, he has been victimized recently: Clemson hit a three-run walk off home run against him in the ACC Tournament.

That was part of a regular season-ending slide that saw the Seminoles lose eight of their last 12 games entering the NCAA Tournament. Before that slump, however, Florida State had ripped off 10 straight victories to rise to the top of the rankings.

Just like Stanford, though, it appears that bottom-of-the-order production and defensive issues were repaired during the club's sweep through the NCAA Regionals. As a result, two similar clubs - both with three decade-tenured coaches with the initials ‘MM' - will likely fight tooth and nail in this Super Regional.

Florida State's home-field advantage is certainly daunting, but the Cardinal have Appel. In a situation in which the first team to two wins advances to the College World Series, that's a huge weapon to have. The pivot point is Game 1.

Tune into whole series worldwide on KZSU (kzsulive.stanford.edu free streaming, 90.1 FM in the Bay Area). First pitches: Friday 4 p.m. PST, Saturday 3 p.m. PST, and Sunday 4 p.m. PST.

Stephen Piscotty in an exclusive interview (link), a day after he was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the MLB Draft.

Preview of the Florida State series:

About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.

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