Very little went right for Florida State's (23-9, 9-6 ACC) baseball team last weekend. Starting pitchers not named Sean Gilmartin performed poorly once again, the coaches may be looking for a new weekend starter halfway into the season and their streak of 25 consecutive victories on Sunday was snapped as part of North Carolina's (29-5, 12-3 ACC) first series win in Tallahassee since 1995. And those are just the bullet points. Find the details and a small preview of this season's final game against the rival Gators past the jump.
Game 1 on Friday night started off as well as FSU could have hoped. They picked up an early lead on a Stuart Tapley RBI single in the second inning and Sean Gilmartin was cruising through seven innings, scattering six hits and allowing a single run and striking out eight. Gilmartin's only spot of serious trouble came in the fifth when UNC loaded the bases on three singles. However, he got out of the jam when when he knocked down a liner that came right back at him, scrambled to grab the ball and throw from his knees to get the force at first. A Devon Travis home run off the scoreboard in the fifth had given the Seminoles a 2-1 lead. But in the eighth, a fielding error by Travis allowed the inning to go one batter too long. That batter was Colin Moran (7-for-13. 5 RBI on the weekend) who parked a line drive over by the circus tent. Gilmartin left the game trailing 3-2 despite having pitched very well with plenty of major league scouts in attendance (ten at least by my count).
But the Seminoles battled back in the bottom half of the inning. With one out Rafael Lopez, who was bumped up to the second spot in the order, singled up the middle and Mike McGee was hit by a pitch. James Ramsey tied the game with a double to right field. McGee scored on Jayce Boyd's sac fly to take the lead and Sherman Johnson provided a little insurance with a double down the line in left to score Ramsey. With a 5-3 lead, Mike McGee came on to close after giving up a run in the ninth earlier in the week to Valdosta State and despite Daniel Bennett pitching to a single batter to end the eighth inning. McGee struggled to throw strikes early and walked the first two batters he faced. After a double play put the tying run on third, he walked UNC's leadoff man who then advanced to second on a passed ball. But McGee managed to focus against Levi Michael, the Heels' best hitter, and strike him out looking to end the game for the FSU win. It was a well fought contest by both teams with Gilmartin's strong pitching and UNC's questionable bullpen being the difference.
Game 2 was a different story. FSU jumped out to another early lead, getting two runs on four hits in the first. But things began to go south after that. UNC first baseman Jesse Wierzbicki led off the second inning with a hit off the screen in right that James Ramsey tried to catch on the fly with a leaping grab, but judged poorly as it hit the screen above his glove. Mike McGee was in place to back him up but somehow missed the ball as it caromed off the screen and Wierzbicki trotted into third standing up with a triple. FSU starter Scott Sitz then walked the next two batters. Seth Baldwin singled to right to score Wierzbicki from third and Sitz got the hook from coach Mike Martin without getting a single out in the second inning. His final line would be one inning pitched, three hits, three runs (all earned), four walks and 2 strikeouts. It was his third poor Saturday start in as many weeks. Brian Busch came on to pitch with the bases still loaded and gave the Seminoles the opportunity to minimize the damage by getting the next two batters to hit grounders that had double play written all over them. And both could have been double plays if Justin Gonzalez could have gotten the ball out of his glove on the turn on the first play or if Devon Travis had not lost his grip on the ball making the turn on the second play. But that's what happened and both grounders resulted in a single-out fielder's choice that allowed two additional runs instead of one before a pop out ended the inning.
The Seminoles did tie it back up with a run in the bottom of the inning and, despite squandering runners at second and third with one out, looked to have righted the ship after the rough start. Brian Busch pitched the third and fourth clean, striking out four Tar Heel batters, and Florida State chased UNC starter Kent Emmanuel in the fourth inning after getting their tenth hit of the game. The Noles even managed to pull off a safety squeeze on a James Ramsey bunt with two outs. Ramsey barely beat the throw to first and Travis, even more closely, beat the throw home. From my angle I thought Travis was out at the plate, but they didn't show the replay in the stadium so I never got a second look. A Jayce Boyd RBI single followed and FSU took a 5-3 lead after four innings.
It didn't last long though. After Busch got the first two outs of the fifth, the wheels came off. UNC second baseman Tommy Coyle singled and catcher Jacob Stallings followed with a short fly ball down the right field line. It should have dropped for a single, but James Ramsey made his second poor fielding decision of the night and took a horrible angle to try and catch the ball. However, it was too much ground to cover and the ball went past him into the corner and Stallings ended up with an RBI triple...Carolina's second triple of the evening on poor choices by Ramsey. And that was just the beginning. Colin Moran singled off Travis' glove to score Stallings from third. Then Sherman Johnson let a ball grounded by Wierzbicki go right between his legs into left that allowed Moran to score all the way from first and Wierzbicki to take second on a way too late throw to the plate. He would score on Chaz Frank's single to right before Tom Zengel's grounder to first ended the inning with UNC now up 7-5. But wait, there's more. Robby Scott would start the sixth in relief of Busch and strike out Seth Baldwin on a pitch in the dirt. But Lopez couldn't get his glove on it and turned in a circle three times with the ball at his feet while Baldwin took first base. He would then move around the bases to score on a balk, a wild pitch and a passed ball while Scott walked two other batters. He would be relieved by Tye Buckley who would get the Noles out of the inning and pitch through the eigth inning without giving up any more runs.
The bottom of the sixth was the only time FSU would threaten to score for the rest of the game. After Devon Travis led off with a double and a walk by Ramsey, Jayce Boyd hit a long, high fly ball to left. It would have left the yard had UNC left fielder Chaz Frank not leaped and reached his glove over the wall to rob Boyd and FSU of a game tying home run. From that point on, Carolina coach Mike Fox used a non-stop stream of mound visits, delays, and six relievers to keep FSU hitters off-balance and seal the 8-5 win while Mike Martin ran up the white flag by sending Jack Posey out to pitch the ninth. FSU ended up with 14 hits on the night, but only two came after the fourth inning.
As if the loss, poor pitching and myriad mental errors weren't bad enough, pitching coach Jamey Shouppe said in a post-game radio interview that they will most likely pull Scott Sitz from the rotation and send him back to the bullpen to figure out what's wrong. Unless they put Brian Busch back in the rotation, this leaves Florida State short one starter with any meaningful weekend experience at the midpoint of the season. This is a situation that seems likely to get worse before it gets better unless either someone such as junior Hunter Scantling, junior Mack Waugh, freshman David Trexler or one of the other relievers steps up or Scott Sitz works through his problems and starts throwing strikes again.
Game 3 saw Florida State fall in 7-2 hole early, despite chasing UNC starter Chris Munnelly in the first inning, and they failed to claw all the way back, losing by a final score of 7-6. After giving up a hit in each of the first two innings, starter Gary Merians (2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 K) allowed two runs on three more hits and failed to get an out in the third inning. He was relieved by Mack Waugh who didn't fare much better giving up four hits of his own. UNC's first seven batters of the inning went walk, double, and five singles before making an out. Throw in an error by Stuart Tapley and Rafael Lopez's third passed ball of the weekend, and you get a 31-minute, 7-run inning for the Tar Heels. Waugh would finish the inning and pitch another 3.1 innings of surprisingly solid baseball relative to how he started.
Florida State made a game of it though as Mike Fox once again had to resort to stall tactics and musical chairs with his bullpen, using five relievers for the final 4.1 innings. The Noles got two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth on a Mike McGee home run to pull FSU within one run of tying the game. But it was a piece of bad luck in the third that would come back to haunt the Noles. With James Ramsey on first and two outs, Stuart Tapley hit a long fly ball to the gap in left that bounced off the warning track and over the fence for a ground rule double. Since Ramsey was running on the play, he would have scored easily, but since he could only advance two bases by rule, he ended up stranded at third after a Justin Gonzalez strikeout. Also worth noting was a curiously wide strike zone away for right-handed hitters that was not reflected on the away-side for left-handed hitters. North Carolina was able to exploit this more than FSU due to the fact they had seven left-handed batters in their lineup to FSU's three. It was so wide to the left batter's box for right-handed hitters, Seminole batters had to swing at pitches late in counts that they couldn't afford to sit on that I think they ordinarily would have. Someone asked me if it wasn't as wide on the inside for left-handed batters and it didn't appear that way. Also, some of the pitches that were called outside strikes to rightys would have probably come close to hitting a lefty batter. It seemed that wide at times.
In all, it was a very frustrating weekend for Florida State. They have to regroup and prepare to face rival Florida in Tallahassee in the last of their four match-ups this season. A win over the top-five ranked Gators would seal the series win for Florida State three games to one and go a long way to helping FSU's post-season seeding, offsetting, in part, the series losses to UNC and at Virginia. The Gators are coming off a series win over Mississippi State that saw then take two of three on the road in Starkville. The tentative starters are junior lefty Alex Panteliodis for Florida and junior right-hander Hunter Scantling for Florida State. From the UF press release:
Junior Alex Panteliodis is set for his fifth start of the season and will be making his
eighth appearance of 2011. Over 22.1 innings this season, the left-hander has allowed 23 hits
and 10 runs, with 17 strikeouts and three walks. Panteliodis has made a pair of appearances
versus the Seminoles this season: (March 1, relief, 2.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 2 K; March 15,
start (ND), 2.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 3 K). He worked 4.1 innings against UCF on April 5, giving
up three hits and two runs, but was not involved in the decision.
Panteliodis is a pitcher Florida State has gotten to before and should try to jump on early. Especially since Scantling will probably only be good for one trip through the Gator batting order. In his previous two starts against Florida he got the hook after three innings, allowing two runs in each start.
There is no television coverage for tonight's game so join us tonight at 6PM Eastern for a live game thread.
Notes from the weekend:
- FSU hitters' BB/K ratio took a hit as they walked 10 times to their 31 strikeouts for the weekend.
- According to one scout at Friday's game, Sean Gilmartin could be selected as high the third round of this year's draft.
- The same scout said beyond Gilmartin, the Seminole player that has the best chances and skill set to bounce around the pros the longest is Rafael Lopez.
- Sophomore pitcher Robert Benincasa was unavailable on the weekend due to a hamstring injury. It is unclear if he will be available to pitch against Florida.
- FSU's 9-6 conference record is still good for a 2.5-game lead over BC and a 3-game lead over Clemson in the Atlantic. However, it's only the fifth-best record in the conference behind Virginia (13-2), UNC (12-3), Georgia Tech (12-3) and Miami (11-3).