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June 20, 2012
OMAHA, Neb. (theACC.com) – Weekend before last, as Florida State piled up 35 runs in two wins over Stanford in the Tallahassee Super Regional, it was easy to lose sight of what this year’s Seminole team is really all about.
FSU (50-16) isn’t adverse to playing long ball and scoring runs in double-digit increments. But as the Seminoles continue to battle their way through 2012 College World Series, coach Mike Martin continues to preach the virtues of patience at the plate and solid pitching.
Both of those attributes were on full display Tuesday night, as the third-seeded Seminoles scrapped past second-seeded UCLA, 4-1, to earn a rematch against Arizona (45-17) in Thursday’s 5 p.m. game at TD Ameritrade Park.
Starter Scott Sitz worked a masterful 6.2 innings on the mound, and relievers Hunter Scantling and Robert Benincasa finished the job. The trio registered 11 strikeouts – including three straight by Sitz vs. the heart of the order after UCLA scored its lone run and loaded the bases in the sixth – and issued just one base on balls.
And from the opening inning, when FSU scored its first two runs via bases-loaded walks, the Seminole hitters succeeded in their plan to avoid over-anxiousness and to make UCLA’s pitchers labor.
“That’s always our approach as hitters,’’ leadoff batter Sherman Johnson said. “Of course, we're more patient than most teams, and it worked out today. We got walked, and luckily, it turned into runs for us.”
UCLA pitchers walked eight Seminoles on Tuesday night, but the Bruins were far from the first team to feel the pain of FSU’s watchful eyes. It is no fluke that the Seminoles lead the nation with 383 walks as a team. It is no accident that three of the Atlantic Coast Conference leaders in walks per game – Johnson, James Ramsey and Stephen McGee – are Seminoles.
“They don't chase,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “We weren't in the zone, and that's a lethal combination. I credit them a lot. They schooled some of our younger guys. I'm not saying that in a negative way – it's just that the older hitters, from (Devon) Travis to (Jayce) Boyd to Ramsey to Johnson, they kind of got the better of the younger (pitchers) in my opinion, and that was the difference in the game.”
It started with Johnson, who reached base in four of his five at-bats and scored half of FSU’s runs.
“I tell you what, Johnson played like a senior,” Savage marveled. “He was the best player on the field tonight. I mean, really good at bats – he had a couple of 0 2 at bats where he got on.”
Or as FSU’s Martin described it:
“He's a pest. That's the only way I can describe Sherman Johnson … There is your consummate leadoff hitter. I've been blessed in this program for a long time with excellent leadoff hitters. But this guy is a true pest. He is no fun if you are in the other dugout. I just thank God I'm in the dugout wearing the same uniform he's wearing.”
Johnson’s two walks on Tuesday night were the 177th and 178th of his career, third most in Florida State history. Johnson is the NCAA’s active career leader in bases on balls. The Tampa, Fla., native has scored 16 runs in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Johnson is the first to score that many runs in a single NCAA Tournament since 2008, when six different players scored 17.
It has been a steady evolution for Johnson, a former walk-on turned starter turned recent Major League draft pick.
“It was kind of new for me,” Johnson said of stepping into the leadoff role. “Last year I was in the two hole, then the six hole, and the year before that I was in the six hole and the two hole. I'm more of a patient hitter, and with the guys that we have coming up behind me – Devon, Ramsey, and Jayce – I just try to get on base any way I can - if it's by walks or if it's by hit-by-pitches or ultimately if it's by hits, any way I can get on base for them.
“It's been working out. I think any time I can get on base, any of those guys behind me that can swing the bat, there are two runs right there.”
Johnson and the Seminoles will seek similar success against Arizona on Thursday night. The Wildcats currently own the bracket drivers’ seat with a 2-0 record in this CWS, including a 4-3, 12-inning win over Florida State last Friday night in which the Seminoles were hurt by several missed scoring opportunites.
“They're a great team, and we know that,” Johnson said. “We're going to try to play better than we did than we played them the first time. We'll stay with our same approach with batters and pitching wise. But I think we'll try to play an overall better game.”
NOTING THE SEMINOLES