Florida State Halts Virginia, 6-4

Photo by Lynn Hey for theACC.com

FSU claims battle of nationally top-five ranked teams

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Quality starts from Nathan Kirby have been the norm for Virginia throughout the season.

Blown leads by the bullpen have not, and that is where the plan went awry in Saturday night’s 6-4 loss to Florida State in the 2014 ACC Baseball Championship.

Kirby staked the third-seeded Cavaliers to a 4-1 lead through six innings in Saturday night’s ACC Baseball Championship game against second-seeded Florida State. But the Seminoles roughed up three Cavalier relievers for four runs in the seventh inning and one more in the eighth to prevail in the battle of nationally top-five ranked teams.

The outcome didn’t figure into the tournament’s final championship equation, as sixth-seeded Maryland and ninth-seeded Georgia Tech were already locked into Sunday’s 1:04 p.m. title game before the first pitch was thrown on Saturday evening. But coach Mike Martin’s FSU squad hopes to maintain its momentum as NCAA Regional play opens late next week.

“For a game that so called had no implications, I think you see how competitive UVA and Florida State is,” Martin said. “It was a fun game, one that was important to both clubs for a number of reasons … How in the world can you deny UVA a No. 1 seed and a top 8 (NCAA) seed?  It's one of the those situations they truly deserve, and I'm hoping that the Committee looks at Florida State in the same vein.” 

With Saturday night’s victory, Martin earned his 65th ACC Championship win as a head coach and passed Clemson legend Bill Wilhelm for the most in league history.

The Seminoles (43-15) finished 2-1 in ACC Championship play, while Virginia (44-13) went 1-2.

Gage Smith (5-2), who came on in relief of starter Luke Weaver in the seventh inning, earned the win for FSU after working 1 1/3 innings, and Jameis Winston pitched the final 1 2/3 to earn his seventh save of the season. Smith allowed two hits, Winston allowed none, and neither Seminole hurler walked a batter.

Kirby, the ACC Co-Pitcher of the Year, went six innings and allowed four hits, a pair of walks and one unearned run. With Brandon Downes’ two-run homer keying a three-run third inning and Matt Thaiss adding an RBI single in the sixth for a 4-1 Virginia lead, Kirby appeared set to register his ninth win in 10 decisions.

But the Seminoles worked Cavalier relievers Connor Jones and Josh Sborz for three hits, three bases on balls and four runs to go up 5-4 in the seventh. The three hits came in succession, as D.J. Stewart, John Nogowski and Jose Brizuela rapped RBI singles and the Seminoles forged ahead.

“We didn't throw strikes out of our bullpen,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “Nathan Kirby did a tremendous job keeping Florida State, who has a good offensive ball club, at bay and we came out of the bullpen and didn't throw strikes and make the pitches we needed. Florida State, to their credit, obviously took advantage of it in the seventh and had a big four-run inning. 

“It's those fundamentals of the game, it's the details of the game against a really good opponent at championship time that let you down and don't give you a chance to win.”

FSU added its final run in eighth inning off Virginia closer Nick Howard, with pinch-hitter Casey Smit bringing it home on a sacrifice fly.

Shortstop Justin Gonzalez also helped the Seminoles with a pair of huge defensive plays.

The senior’s perfect relay throw following Downes’ double down the left field line in the sixth cut down Thaiss at the plate and left the score at 4-1. Then, with Florida State leading by a run in the eight and two Virginia runners on base, Gonzalez made a lunging catch on John La Prise’s drive that appeared headed to the gap in left-center. He then leaped to his feet and threw to second base to double off Joe McCarthy.

“That's why I'm playing at Florida State,” Winston said in assessing the play. “We feel we should be a top eight (NCAA) seed because we’ve got hitters, we’ve got great defensive players and we’ve got great pitching.” 
O’Connor didn’t argue, but he felt his team – particularly on Gonzalez’s sensational catch – could have done more to help itself.

“It was a great play by him, certainly, but the fundamental breakdown on our end (was that) as a base runner, you have to check back and see the ball through,” O’Connor said.  “You can't guess that the ball is going to get through, because when you guess those are the types of things that happen.”