Baseball: UT, FSU Battle For Omaha Berth

No. 1 Florida State. Defending National Champ Texas. This is a match-up made for Omaha. But for the NCAA selection committee, it may have been. Instead, the 'Noles and the Horns will square off in a Super Regional for the right to advance to the College World Series.

"You have in fact an Omaha-type, College World Series-type championship tournament here in Tallahassee, with either one of these two teams capable of going on to win the National Championship," Augie Garrido said Friday.

"This will be a championship, a national championship type tournament. The games should be terrific."

It's little wonder why Florida State is considered the top college baseball team in the country this season. The 54-11-1 Seminoles won the ACC regular season crown. As a team, FSU has a sparkling 2.83 ERA (fourth-best in the nation) and three members of the Seminole staff have 10-plus wins. That formidable rotation of Matt Lynch (13-3, 3.20), Trent Peterson (10-1, 2.68) and Daniel Davidson (10-0, 2.63) is backed by a solid relief corps (only one regularly-used member of the staff has an ERA above 4.00) and a salty save artist in Daniel Hodges (5-2, 12 saves, 2.12). On top of that, in the few instances where FSU's pitching falters, the bats typically pick up the slack. As a team, the Seminoles own a .310 batting average. The lowest batting average among a Florida State regular is Matt Sauls' .271, while seven exceed the .300 mark.

Lynch is the probable starter in the Saturday's opener. The 6-1, 190-pound senior lefty has been virtually untouchable in his two post-season starts, snagging two Ws (one in the ACC Tourney opener and one in the regional opener last weekend) while pitching 17 innings, surrendering just nine hits and no earned runs while striking out 15 and walking two!

Peterson, the game two starter each of the last two weekends, hasn't been too shabby himself, although he earned no-decisions in both starts, games that the Seminoles eventually lost. In the ACC Tournament against Super Regional qualifier North Carolina, the 6-0, 175-pound junior lefty went eight innings and gave up six hits, two walks and two earned runs while striking out nine in what turned out to be a 3-2, 10-inning loss. In the Tallahassee Regional vs. South Alabama, Peterson pitched 6-1/3 innings, allowing nine hits, two walks and three earned runs while again striking out nine in an eventual 8-6 Seminole loss.

Davidson picked up a win each of the last two weekends in elimination games, blanking Virginia on three hits, a walk and seven Ks in his 7-2/3 innings in the ACC Tourney and then tossing a complete game vs. South Alabama in FSU's season-extending 13-5 win last Sunday in regional play.

The Seminoles get production from up and down the batting order. Leadoff man Stephen Drew, a sophomore shortstop who has started 63 of 64 games, is third on the team in batting with a .326 average after smoking South Alabama in the final two games of the regional with two homers and nine RBI in 11 at-bats. Freshman All-American 3B/DH Eddy Martinez-Esteve leads the team with a .373 mark, while junior catcher Tony Ritchie comes in a close second at .363. Drew and Richie have each belted 11 homers in '03, with Martinez-Esteve adding nine. LF Tony McQuade leads the team with 13 round-trippers. Twelve Seminoles have 20-plus RBI (eight Horns top that mark), led by Richie (75), Drew (59), 1B Jerrod Brown (57), McQuade (56), RF Blake Balkcom (45) and Martinez-Esteve (42). Drew (33-36), McQuade (26-32) and CF Matt Sauls (14-17) are FSU's biggest running threats.

Strictly on a statistical basis, the Seminoles seem to have the slight edge. The Horns' staff ERA is a solid 3.45 (good for 14th nationally but over a half a run per game higher than FSU's mark) while the Texas bats connect at a .306 clip. There's also that little detail of location, with Florida State hosting the Horns at Dick Howser Stadium (named after the former FSU and Kansas City Royals manager). The stadium grandstand and bleacher configuration looks remarkably similar to those at the Disch, but smaller, with grandstand capacity of 2,500 (although attendance at last week's regional opener topped 5,000 with a per game attendance over the weekend of approximately 4,600). The stadium has a short, 320-foot right field porch and plays 340 to left and 400 to dead center.

In Saturday's opener, Texas is likely to start this year's staff ace J.P. Howell. The junior lefty is 8-2 on the season with a 2.39 ERA. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 on ESPN2.

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