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Stewart leads offense as 'Noles win series vs. Demon Deacons

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FSU found themselves in a hole early, but the offense stepped up, once again, leading the Seminoles to a series-clinching 9-6 win.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

It was an inauspicious start for Florida State in a rubber match vs. Wake Forest Sunday, as starting pitcher Cobi Johnson allowed hits to the first three Demon Deacon batters and trailed 1-0 with the ACC's leading hitter, Will Craig, stepping to the plate. The freshman gave up a sacrifice fly to the cleanup hitter, and allowed three runs in the inning, but it certainly could've been much worse.

The Seminoles didn't wait long to answer, scoring two runs of their own in the bottom half, albeit on a controversial two-run double by Quincy Nieporte. Freshman shortstop Taylor Walls quickly fell behind 0-2, before singling to left field. DJ Stewart drew a one-out walk, and it set the stage for FSU's hottest hitter. Nieporte hit what seemed to be a foul-ball deep down the left field line, but the umpires ruled it fair, and it scored Walls and Stewart. The Wake Forest players and coaches would argue to no avail.

Johnson allowed two more Demon Deacons to reach base in the second inning, but he got Nate Mondou to ground out and keep the visitors off the board. The same couldn't be said for Wake Forest pitcher Paul Kirkpatrick (2-1). He got two quick outs, but he allowed a single to Danny De La Calle and walked Walls before Tom Walter went to his bullpen, bringing in Max Tishman. The redshirt sophomore uncorked two wild pitches around a John Sansone four-pitch walk, allowing the tying run to score in the process. He fell behind Stewart 2-0 before the manager summoned his third pitcher in the inning. Donnie Sellers completed the at bat against the all-American left fielder, but he didn't fare any better, allowing a two-run single to right, and FSU grabbed a 5-3 lead.

Wake Forest couldn't get anything going offensively the next two innings, as Johnson retired six of seven hitters. Florida State looked to go quietly during those frames, as well, but Sellers issued back-to-back full-count walks to Walls and Sansone in the fourth, before Stewart came through with another two-out RBI hit, making it 6-3 'Noles.

The Demon Deacons would threaten in the fifth, as Johnson hit Joey Rodriguez and gave up a one-out single to Craig. Mike Martin would call on senior Bryant Holtmann, who entered and struck out Ben Breazeale for the second out, but plunked Stuart Fairchild to load the bases. However, it set up a lefty-lefty matchup with Justin Yurchak, and Holtmann was able to get an inning-ending fielder's choice groundout to Walls at short.

The 'Noles sent Holtmann back to the mound in the sixth, and he gave up a one-out solo HR to Bruce Steel, who entered the game hitting .122. Rodriguez got a two-out bunt single to third, but he was erased on De La Calle's first caught stealing of the season.

Florida State finally put the game out of reach in the seventh inning. Marconcini led off the inning with a free pass off Craig, who moved to the mound from first base the previous inning. Jackson Owens pinch ran for the Duke transfer. Steven Wells, Jr. was hit by a pitch with one out, putting runners on first and second for Nick Graganella. The seldom-used junior from Tallahassee Community College ripped an double to right field scoring Owens. De La Calle drove in two more with a bounding single through a drawn-in infield, making it 9-4.

Billy Strode pitched the 9th and gave up a two-out, two-run home run to Craig, his sixth round-tripper of the season. It cut the lead to three, but Strode struck out Breazeale swinging to end the game. The runs were the first allowed by the senior lefty this season.

With the win, Florida State moves to 17-4 overall and 5-1 in the ACC, while Wake Forest falls to 13-8 and 3-3 in conference play. Holtmann (3-1) picked up the win in relief, throwing 2.2 IP, while allowing only 1 run on 3 hits. He struck out 2 and didn't walk a batter.

Stewart led a balanced offensive attack for the Seminoles with 3 RBI on a 2-3 afternoon. He also walked two times (remember that theme) and stole a base. De La Calle batted 2-4 with 2 RBI and a run scored. Walls was 1-3 with 3 runs scored. He also walked twice. Nieporte was 1-5 with the aforementioned controversial 2 RBI double in the first. Sansone went 1-2 with a run scored. He reached base in 4 of 5 plate appearances (2 walks and a HBP). He added a stolen base. Martin was quick to mention FSU's patience at the plate after the game: "I saw some guys have some quality at-bats. And that nine walks, that's good stuff. I thought we showed a lot of discipline. Nobody works harder at it than 'Meat' (assistant coach Mike Martin, Jr.) does. He works with our guys daily on strike-zone recognition and doing what needs to be done to make us better. And it's certainly been paying off." Sansone echoed his skipper's thoughts: "I feel like everyone was really patient today. I didn't feel like anyone was chasing too many balls out of the zone. I just felt like they were seeing the ball well and trying to put good swings on it.

After a dominant 13-1 homestand, the 'Noles hit the road for a very difficult week, traveling to Gainesville to play the Gators Tuesday, before heading north to duel with Virginia in Charlottesville next weekend. Alec Byrd will start on the mound vs. Florida.

WF vs. FSU Gm. 3 Box Score