Homers and walks rally FSU to Super Regional opening win over LSU
Eight outs from a victory that would have put LSU one win away from its 19th College World Series appearance, Florida State finally did what it does best Saturday afternoon in Alex Box Stadium.
Send baseballs out of the park and draw walks.
FSU outfielder Reese Albert’s game-tying, three-run homer in the seventh, then outfielder Tim Becker’s RBI sacrifice fly in the eighth and an Albert solo homer in the ninth completed Florida State’s 6-4 Super Regional opening comeback victory.
The win positioned the 40-21 Seminoles and their 75-year old Florida State coach Mike Martin one win away from his 17th College World Series before he heads into retirement after 40 seasons guiding FSU.
"That was a heckuva ball game," Martin said. "There were a lot of people, including myself wondering how it would turn out. Just a back and forth, and for both teams a pure display of poise. We know this doesn't decide anything. We know how tough it is to win two out of three, especially in a great environment that LSU has. That is just about as good as it gets."
In Sunday’s game two starting at 5 p.m., Martin will start sophomore CJ Van Eyk (10-3) on the mound. He's 7-0 in his last eight decisions.
Meanwhile, LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s 40-25 Tigers’ pitching rotation suffered a blow when starter Cole Henry left Saturday's game after two innings with arm problems. It forced Mainieri to use five of his best relievers as he tried in vain to hold on to the Tigers' 4-0 lead through five innings.
"We couldn't face more adversity than we're facing now," Mainieri said. "We had a 4-0 lead in this game and we squandered it. We played a good game in a lot of ways and it just got away from us."
The Seminoles scored six unanswered runs off LSU relievers Todd Peterson, Trent Vietmeier, Devin Fontenot and Zack Hess, starting with Albert battling Vietmeier for 11 pitches and crushing a Vietmeier offering into the right field bleachers for a 4-4 tie.
After that, it was all downhill for LSU as the Seminoles scored runs in each of their last four at-bats.
Florida State entered Saturday's game fourth in the nation drawing walks and was coming off an Athens Regional where the Seminoles hit 10 home runs in three games.
True to form, what kept FSU from dying after Saturday's first five scoreless innings and what got the Seminoles thriving was earning 10 bases on balls and receiving the eventual power surge from Albert.
After missing 19 games this season battling injuries, Albert batted .429 (6-of-14) in the Athens Regional with two homers and five RBI. He was 0-for-3 Saturday when he stepped to the plate against Vietmeier with one out in the seventh and FSU trailing 4-1.
Once the count worked to 3-2, Vietmeier and Albert settled into a showdown. Vietmeier fired five fastballs and Albert fouled off every one of them.
"I was pretty confident he (Vietmeier) wasn't going to come with anything but fastballs," Albert said. "He was making good pitches. The pitches I fouled off were borderline strike calls, so I had to swing. He finally gave me the pitch I could do some damage with.
"It (the pitch) was middle in and I kind of knew (it was a home run) as soon as I hit it. On the second one (in the ninth), I thought I popped it up. But the wind was blowing that way. I just got it high enough in the air and it kept going."
As for LSU’s offense, it was held to a two-hit shutout in its final four innings. FSU relievers Chase Haney, Antonio Velez and closer J.C. Flowers silenced the Tigers' bats.
LSU did manage a leadoff single by first baseman Chris Reid to open the ninth inning and he advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Center field Zach Watson drew a two-out walk.
Right fielder Antoine Duplantis, LSU's all-time hits leader, worked Flowers into a 2-0 count before popping out to FSU catcher Matheu Nelson to end the game.
For the longest time, it appeared the Tigers would somehow survive and pull out another win despite starting pitcher Henry's stunning departure after throwing 41 pitches in two scoreless innings,
Just after he wriggled out of bases loaded jam by striking out FSU's Becker to end Henry’s 29-pitch second inning, he and Mainieri took side-by-seats in the dugout.
"I asked him how he was feeling," Mainieri said. "He said, `Not too good' and he pointed at his arm. I'm not going to take any more chances with the kid when he tells you that. There was no decision to be made."
So, Mainieri turned to Peterson, the mercurial junior who would have been the unsung hero had LSU hung on for the win.
In relief of Henry, Peterson delivered 4.1 innings, allowing three hits and two runs.
"At that point, I can go as long as I can, just give everything I have and keep the (rest of the) bullpen out of the game as long as I can," Peterson said.
While Peterson blanked the Seminoles in the third, fourth and fifth innings, LSU edged ahead.
The Tigers’ offense wasn’t overwhelming, more like a buzzard taking an occasional bite of a carcass. It nipped FSU starting pitcher Drew Parrish for six hits and scored a run each in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings for a 4-0 lead.
In each case, Parrish allowed the Tigers’ leadoff batter to reach base – left fielder Daniel Cabrera in the second (hit by pitch), shortstop Josh Smith in the third (doubled to right field corner), catcher Saul Garza in the fourth (fielding error by FSU center fielder Flowers who couldn’t locate Garza’s pop-up into the sun) and Smith in the fifth (singled to center fielder)
Second baseman Brandt Broussard’s RBI flare single scored Cabrera for 1-0 lead. Two straight ground balls, the second an RBI grounder by Duplantis, plated Smith for a 2-0 edge and Reid’s RBI single scored designated hitter Cade Beloso for a 3-0 advantage.
Finally, when Cabrera slapped an RBI single scoring Smith for a 4-0 cushion, FSU's Martin pulled Parrish with two outs in the fifth. He inserted sidearm throwing righty reliever Haney, who immediately got the Seminoles out of the inning with a fielders’ choice ground out.
LSU didn't score again, but the Tigers as of late had survived such offensive blackouts because of their relief pitching.
Not this time.
Now, LSU faces a do-or-die situation on Sunday when Mainieri starts freshman Landon Marceaux. As far as the bullpen, he said all the Tigers' relievers except for Peterson who pitched in game one could be used in game two.
"It will be all-hands on deck," Mainieri said. "We've got to win or the season is over."