Seminoles, Gators take rivalry to Super Regionals
By Tim Linafelt
With their 18-6 win over South Alabama last Sunday night, the Florida State Seminoles swept through an NCAA Regional that a few pundits projected as the nation’s toughest.
Along the way, they made a statement that ought to echo in Gainesville. And maybe Omaha, too.
In the wake of Sunday’s victory, FSU coach Mike Martin wasn’t yet ready to look ahead to Gainesville, where FSU will face Florida in an NCAA Super Regional next week. One of the two rivals will advance to the College World Series.
“We’re going to enjoy this one for 24 hours,” Martin said. “And hopefully we can play well this weekend.”
The Seminoles, though, look like they’re ready to play right now.
And given the way things unfolded at Dick Howser Stadium over the weekend, it would be awfully hard to pick against them.
Consider that they outscored their three regional opponents by a combined score of 43-14.
Or that they hit eight home runs in three games – heck, that they hit six homers on Sunday alone.
Or that their starting pitchers – Drew Carlton, Tyler Holton and Cole Sands – each went at least five innings and that only Carlton allowed more than two runs. And that most of those came around the time he crossed the 100-pitch threshold.
It was all enough to lead one reporter to ask Martin if this is as well as the Seminoles have played all season.
“I would have to say we’re playing pretty well,” Martin said. “But I’d back that up by saying, dadgum, we were playing pretty good before we played Clemson on that Sunday, too.”
That’s a reference to last week’s ACC championship game, when FSU fell into a huge hole before suffering an 18-13 defeat.
But even that loss, humbling as it was, came with a positive side effect, because it showed that once again, the Seminoles can rally together when things go wrong.
Case in point, FSU has won seven of its last eight games, the last three emphatically, after dropping six of seven in mid-May.
They didn’t do it against any cellar-dwellars either: FSU posted wins over Miami, NC State and Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament before ripping through the NCAA regional.
“We ended the season on kind of a bad note, but we know that playoff baseball is totally different,” senior third baseman John Sansone said. “And to do what we did in Durham (at the ACC tournament) and do what we did this weekend gives us a lot of confidence.”
Added Martin: “It’s just the nature of the beast. You just don’t know exactly any time what to expect. You just know that your team is prepared and they’re tough, mentally.
“That’s the key – being able to get through anything that might happen by being mentally tough.”
It’s safe to expect that things won’t come as easily in Gainesville as they did this weekend.
The Gators spent most of the season ranked No. 1 and are the top seed in the NCAA tournament.
And despite a closer-than-expected win over Connecticut on Saturday, UF made quick work of its regional, too.
Then there’s the matter of FSU’s recent record at Florida’s McKethan Stadium, where they’ve won just once in the last nine years. That includes an 0-2 mark in last year’s Super Regional.
Still, it’s hard to look in the Seminoles’ clubhouse and not feel like things could be different this year.
Maybe it’s because their underclassmen pitchers, especially local product Holton, seem to have turned a corner in recent weeks.
Or maybe it’s because of young hitters like Dylan Busby, Jackson Lueck and Cal Raleigh, who all appear to be on the fast-track to stardom.
That’s especially true for Busby, who has been simply astonishing throughout the postseason.
Since the start of the ACC tournament, seven games ago, the Sarasota native is hitting at a .515 clip (17-33) with 18 RBIs and six home runs. That includes back-to-back homers on Sunday, one of which bounced twice off the left-field scoreboard. First as it left the park, and again on its way down to earth.
“I’m proud of the process that I’m watching him go through,” Martin said. “Because next year, and the rest of this year, he’s a very important part of our team.”
Throw in the rest of a lineup that features a number of dynamic players – senior slugger Sansone and steady shortstop Taylor Walls among them – and the Seminoles all of a sudden are flirting with formidable.
Martin loves to quote Hall-of-Famer Earl Weaver and remind that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. And there’s no guarantee that FSU will play as well in Gainesville as it did in Tallahassee this weekend.
But, after these three games, and three of the four that preceded them, the Seminoles at least have no doubts about what they can do.
“We’re just very excited after what just happened,” Martin said. “But we know that this will all subside and it’s time to get back to work.”