It was no fluke. The fourth seeded Georgia Southern Eagles strolled into Tallahassee and shutout the fifth overall seed in the NCAA tournament 7-0, behind a masterpiece performance from pitcher Sam Howard.
"I can't remember the last time my daddy took me to the woodshed and whipped my butt", said FSU skipper Mike Martin. "We were totally dominated by Sam Howard, who pitched a beautiful ball game."
The junior southpaw for the Eagles--who is an early round projection for the 2014 MLB Draft-- hurled a gem, pitching a complete game, two-hit shutout with four walks and ten strikeouts on the night. Howard tossed an astounding 137 pitches in the winning effort.
"It was one of the best games I've ever thrown" said Howard. "It was hard to go out there with how loud it was and the amount of people in the stands, but my team really helped me out."
The Georgia Southern offense did indeed help him out as they quickly struck for two runs on four hits in the top of the 1st inning off Florida State's Mike Compton, snagging an early 2-0 lead.
Compton was flat for the Seminoles lasting only 1.1 innings giving up five hits and two earned runs, walking one and striking out zero Eagle batters. If not for a base-running blunder by GSU on a double to right field resulting in a runner being gunned down at the plate, the score would have been worse early.
Billy Strode and Gage Smith were called into action holding down the Eagle offense for nearly five innings. While not completely dominant (GSU didn't have an entire 1-2-3 inning all night), the duo was able to keep the score manageable at 3-0 heading into the 7th inning. Strode and Smith combined for 4.2 innings giving up just four hits and no earned runs, walking four and striking out four.
Meanwhile the Florida State offense continued to stall against Howard, posting zero after zero on the scoreboard.
In a bizarre move, Mike Martin brought on true freshman Alec Byrd into pitch the 7th inning. Georgia Southern promptly tacked on a run via a double to right field by GSU's Hunter Thomas, making the score 4-0.
Martin then the following inning placed seldom-used Brandon Johnson into the game. Johnson worked 2.2 innings giving up five hits and three runs, including two home runs. The three runs in the 9th inning put the game out of reach for FSU who loaded the bases in the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs, only to have John Sansone stare at strike three to end the game.
I'm not one to usually criticize Mike Martin, but that has to be one of the most head-scratching moves I have ever seen in baseball. To seemingly waive the white flag, down just 3-0 is inexcusable and honestly flabbergasting. With a limited pitching staff due to injury, and lack of trusted arms in the pen, FSU played for the rest of the weekend instead of winning this game.
Now mind you, Sam Howard was phenomenal, but the coaching moves tonight send a poor message to the Seminole faithful and team, to just seemingly quit down three runs, at home in the post-season no less.
Florida State is now 43-16 on the year with the loss and is one game away from having a season end in very disappointing fashion. The Seminoles must win four straight games to survive the regional and are headed to the Loser's Bracket to face second-seeded Alabama, which lost 1-0 to Kennesaw State earlier in game one of the Tallahassee Regional. Georgia Southern faces the Owls at 5 PM tomorrow night in the Winner's Bracket game.
FSU will send RHP Luke Weaver to the mound, while Alabama will send LHP Justin Kamplain to the hill. First pitch is schedule for 1 PM and will be televised by ESPNU on Saturday. Myself, Dustin, and Rays will all be in attendance providing game analysis.
The last time Florida State lost a regional game was in 2008 to Bucknell. The Seminoles were also shutout 7-0 in that game and would promptly win four straight games to win the regional. FSU reached the College World Series that year, led by Buster Posey.