Beyond the ACCtion: FSU Faces Must-Win Situation on Sunday

June 16, 2012

Steve Phillips, Associate Director of Communications for the Atlantic Coast Conference, takes you Beyond the ACCtion in Omaha for the 2012 College World Series. Check theACC.com for more entries.

OMAHA, Neb. (theACC.com) -- It didn’t take long for the 66th College World Series to turn into a do-or-die proposition for two of its eight participants.

Florida State didn’t plan on being one of the two teams that face elimination on Sunday. But as the Seminoles (48-16) prepare to meet Stony Brook (52-14) with their season on the line in the 5 p.m. losers’ bracket game, veteran coach Mike Martin prefers to dwell on the positive.

“We know that both teams are going to be looking at going home. Neither team wants to go home,” Martin said. “That's an exciting day for college baseball.”

Playing No. 2 seeded UCLA which handed a Stony Brook a 9-1 defeat in Friday’s CWS opener, would have been exciting, too. That not only would it have meant a matchup of two of the top three seeded teams in Sunday’s 9 p.m. winners’ bracket game, it would have left the Seminoles with some margin for error.

But that margin disappeared against Arizona in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The Wildcats pushed across a run on back-to-back doubles in the 12th inning for a 4-3 lead, and then held on as the Seminoles left the potential tying run stranded at third base in the bottom of the frame.

While FSU fans might have lost sleep over what might have been, Martin claimed he would not be tossing or turning.

“It’s just one of those situations where there's nobody to blame,” he said. “It was a good game of baseball. It's just that the team that I wanted to win didn't.

“Sometimes you can look at a game like this and just … you know, it's over with, you move on to the next ballgame. We didn't kick the ball around and cost ourselves a bunch of runs. Arizona beat us. They did a good job, and there's no finger pointing toward any of our players.”

While the Arizona loss seems a potential momentum killer, this year’s Florida State team has overcome worse. The Seminoles are just three weeks removed from a disastrous ACC Championship performance in Greensboro, which saw Martin’s team drop three straight games and leave some wondering if they were deserving of their then-No. 1 ranking in several national polls.

“We go into the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and get it handed to us three straight times,” Martin said. “That was a lot of fun. It was a real short ride back to Tallahassee. But I can't say enough about the young men getting it done in the Regional and Super Regional.”

FSU responded by winning three straight Regional games, then outscoring Stanford by a combined score of 35-8 in two Super Regional contests. The seeming ease with which the Seminoles put away the Cardinal left many believing FSU’s 21st trip to Omaha just might be the one that produced that elusive national title.

Given FSU’s proven ability to bounce back, senior third baseman Sherman Johnson believes it still can be. Johnson said the Arizona loss was only minutes old before Martin had the Seminoles looking ahead. Martin pointed to two-time defending CWS champion South Carolina, which dropped a 4-3 decision to Oklahoma in its opener two years ago and entered the 2012 CWS having not lost an NCAA tournament game since – a record span of 21 consecutive games.

“In the huddle, Coach was talking about what South Carolina did two years ago when they lost their first game, and he was just saying, ‘Why couldn't it be us?’ ‘’ Johnson said. And I think it's a mindset everybody's going to take on coming forward. This is tough, but we'll forget about it. And we'll be ready to go Sunday.”

ANOTHER RESILIENT TEAM

Florida State will face a fellow team in survival mode when it takes on Stony Brook, and another team with a proven ability to rebound from adversity.

The Seawolves are 5-0 in elimination games during this year’s NCAA tournament. Stony Brook recovered from a one-run loss to Central Florida in the Coral Gables Regional to win three straight games, including back-to-back wins over UCF. After dropping a heartbreaking 5-4, 12-inning loss at LSU in their Super Regional opener, the America East champions stormed back with 3-1 and 7-2 to victories to earn their improbable trip to Omaha and capture the imaginations of thousands who love to embrace an underdog.

Not that Martin is convinced Stony Brook should wear that label, even following Friday’s series-opening loss to UCLA.

“That is a beautiful baseball team,” Martin said. “I mean, seven players drafted is clear evidence that they're very, very talented. We know we're going to have our work cut out for us.”

NOTING THE SEMINOLES

  • Florida State is now 3-1 in extra-inning games in 2012. The Seminoles’ last extra-inning loss prior to Friday night came on March 23, 2011, against Stetson (6-4 in 11 innings).
  • Johnson’s solo home run in the third inning against Arizona was just the third home run allowed this season by Wildcats starter Kurt Heyer, and the first Heyer had allowed since April 5. It was Johnson’s seventh career home run in NCAA postseason play (25 games).
  • All-America reliever Robert Benincasa’s four-inning effort vs. Arizona was a season-high. It was his fourth appearance this season of at least 2.0 innings and first since April 22. Benincasa struck out the side in the 11th inning before giving up the go-ahead run in the 12th. Martin said his reliever did not throw an extraordinary number of pitches (43) and should be available for Sunday’s game should the situation arise

    “He was at 40 pitches, when I got to thinking: ‘All right, this is definitely going to be it for him, this inning,’” Martin said. “We definitely couldn't have extended him anymore. He's gone about 45 before. The decision had been made: if we tied it up (in the bottom of the 12th), we were going with another guy. But Benny has just been a workhorse and just a tremendous lift to our baseball team all year.”
  • The Seminoles’ bullpen tied a season-high with 7.2 innings of relief vs. the Wildcats, equaling the effort that five FSU hurlers posted against Jacksonville on Feb. 21st.
  • The last time Florida State played at least 12 innings was on May 4, 2010, an 11-10 win over Jacksonville in 13 innings.