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3 up, 3 down: FSU rallies, falls in opener with No. 4 Clemson

Florida State lost despite scoring nine straight runs to overcome a 10-1 deficit.

FSU pitcher Cole Sands
Ross Obley

After Florida State rattled off nine straight runs to tie the game with No. 4 Clemson at 10 in the seventh inning, it felt like the ensuing result would have a major effect in whichever direction it played out in.

As it turned out, the Seminoles fell once again on Saturday, dropping the series opener with the Tigers, 12-10, thanks to poor defensive play at the least ideal time.

There was a lot to digest from such a roller coaster of a game. Lots of positive takeaways (mostly offensive) and plenty of negatives as well. Here’s a breakdown of how the game played out:

3 up

1. Matt Henderson, hardly the most effective hitter in the Florida State lineup, played a key role in the Seminoles’ charge back into the game on Saturday.

The senior out of Chico, California, who held a .205 batting average entering this weekend, was 3-4 in Saturday’s loss. His three hits matched his season-high and his four RBI, highlighted by his three-run double in the fourth inning, doubled up his previous career-high of two runs batted in while raising his batting average nearly 30 points to .232.

Henderson’s Saturday performance will assuredly not be replicated on a daily basis going forward, but anything even close to this more consistently could go a long way towards fending off Nick Derr, who has been pushing hard for Henderson’s starting spot at second for weeks.

2. Henderson may have stood out the most, but it was a true group effort for Florida State to climb back into Saturday’s game after falling behind 9-0 in the third inning.

Eight of FSU’s nine hitters had at least one hit in the loss to Clemson while seven different Seminoles scored at least one run. As a team, the ’Noles hit a clutch .353 with runners in scoring position (6-17) and .375 with runners on base (9-24).

These stats are made even more impressive when factoring in how talented Clemson’s pitching staff is. The Tigers held a combined 2.71 team ERA entering this weekend’s series, eighth-lowest in the NCAA. Although the loss is surely a massive disappointment, it may lend some solace, as well as potentially confidence, to the batters that they were able to pull such an amazing rally against one of the best pitching staffs in the country.

3. For as poor as the starting and early relief work on the mound was for the Seminoles, the late-game relievers did very well to stop the bleeding and give the offense the chance to chip away at the lead that it took.

Jim Voyles threw 2.1 innings of shutout baseball as the fourth man out of the Florida State ‘pen. He was hardly perfect, allowing a hit and a walk while getting himself into a few jams. However, he always managed to work his way out of it, showcasing the clutch gene you would expect from one of the veterans of the bullpen.

Following Voyles, Drew Carlton was called upon in a 10-10 game. He may have been saddled with the loss after surrendering a pair of unearned runs in the ninth inning, but this is just another example of how poor a stat record is. His two runs came after two straight errors put men on first and second with no outs in the ninth, a jam which he nearly managed to work his way out of against all odds.

Going forward, Carlton’s two innings of work on 40 pitches will make it interesting as to how he is used the rest of the weekend, as Mike Martin told the media on Friday that he would consider starting him on Monday if his work load was light in the first two games.

Bonus: Before the game, Florida State retired J.D. Drew’s No. 39, making him just the second player in program history to have his number retired, a most deserved recognition for one of the best college baseball players of all time.

3 down

1. Cole Sands, who went up against the most potent offense he has faced all year on Saturday, looked completely unprepared for the moment and fell apart, going just 1.2 innings, his shortest start of the season.

Sands began the outing allowing two straight singles to put himself into a minor jam. From there, he worked his way out of it nicely, allowing just one run. The second inning was in many ways the exact opposite of this inning.

In the second, Sands retired the first two batters in quick succession, but did not record another out. He allowed doubles to four of the next five batters and was chased after that. His six earned runs allowed, which raised his ERA to 4.60, was a season-high and snapped a streak of four straight solid starts where we went 5+ innings and allowed three or fewer runs.

With the Florida State rotation in flux with the possible return of Drew Carlton, Sands’ Friday role may be in some doubt going forward.

2. Poor defense at inopportune times can cost you baseball games, as evidenced by the ninth inning of Saturday’s ballgame.

With the game level at 10, the Seminoles spotted the Tigers a pair of baserunners to start the inning after fielding errors by Henderson and freshman first baseman Drew Mendoza, which proved costly after Clemson’s Seth Beer knocked in the eventual game-winning runs on a bloop single which bounced off of Walls’ glove.

Florida State’s defense has been mediocre this season, falling neither into the consistently good nor consistently bad categories. However, of late, the Seminoles’ defense has been quite poor at the worst possible time, with late errors costing the team a number of wins which could have been huge RPI helps come postseason selection time.

3. It’s hard to criticize much about the Florida State lineup which performed heroically in a comeback against one of the best pitching staffs in country. That being said, one negative aspect stands out.

The Seminoles finished Saturday’s loss with 12 strikeouts at the plate to just four free passes by either walk or hit-by-pitch, an undesirable 3:1 ratio.

This is a.) completely against the Florida State modus operandi at the plate and b.) not the best way to attempt overcoming a nine-run deficit.

Amazingly, the comeback occurred as the Seminoles leveled the score in the seventh inning. However, facing a two-run deficit once again in the ninth inning, the strikeout bug reared its head at the worst possible moment as FSU struck out in order after Rhett Aplin’s leadoff single, dooming the team’s chances in the high-profile game.

With the loss, FSU drops to 21-15 on the year (7-9 in ACC play) and is on its second four-game losing streak of the season. The Seminoles will look to bounce back on Sunday, throwing Tyler Holton (4-1, 2.47 ERA) against Clemson’s Alex Eubanks (5-2, 2.92). First pitch is slated for 2 PM.