If Florida State wants any chance of hosting an NCAA Regional come postseason time, the importance of winning two if not three of the games against No. 14 Virginia this weekend cannot be overstated.
With that in mind, FSU got off onto the right foot in its weekend series, riding incredible bullpen work and a power display at the plate to come away with a 6-4 win in Friday’s opener.
1. Statistically this year, Florida State’s lineup may not match up with Virginia’s, which is among the best in the nation in a plethora of categories, but the Seminoles looked the part of the more potent offense in the opener. This outburst at the plate was especially reliant on the long ball as three different players homered to account for four of FSU’s six runs.
Dylan Busby’s homer was his ninth of the season and continues his breakout performance down the backstretch of the season. Over the last eight games, Busby has hit .428 with five homers, four doubles, and 19 RBI.
Lueck, who left the game in the third inning with an illness, followed Busby’s bomb with one of his own in the first inning, staking the Seminoles to a 2-0 lead. His knack for staying active at the plate while missing so many stretches of games this season has been admirable as he is hitting .297 and has 29 RBI, fourth most on the team, despite missing 12 games. His status for the rest of the weekend remains up in the air at this time.
For Mendoza, his homer, which broke a 4-4 deadlock in the sixth inning, proved to be the difference. For the freshman who has been a bit streaky, starting cold before heating up in early April and recently falling back off again, some positive momentum could be just what he needs to restart another hot streak.
2. The Florida State bullpen pulled out all the stops to put together a stellar combined outing in holding an exceedingly talented UVA lineup at bay while the Florida State bats did enough to come away with the win.
Over 4.2 innings of work, Clayton Kwiatkowski, Chase Haney, Alec Byrd, and Drew Carlton allowed no runs on three hits, striking out two and walking only one. Those numbers are not to say that the relievers stayed out of jams. Quite the opposite, in fact. However, when the situation called for a clutch out to escape the jam unscathed, the group rose to the occasion each time in Friday’s win.
3. Mike Martin put himself outside of his traditionalist comfort zone on Friday and it paid off in a big way.
The FSU head coach elected to uniquely counter two of Virginia’s best hitters in first baseman Pavin Smith and designated hitter Robbie Coman. Both were hovered around the .350 mark on the year entering the series, but also rely on pulling the ball.
Martin saw this in scouting and adjusted by putting on a major shift into his defensive alignment, moving shortstop Taylor Walls onto the other side of the second-base bag and second baseman Matt Henderson quite close to first base.
Facing the unexpected shift, which Martin said afterwards was more drastic than any shift he believes he has ever utilized, Smith and Coman went a combined 1-7 (.143) with no RBI, taking a major aspect of Virginia’s loaded lineup away.
1. Nick Derr, getting a spot start in right field for Rhett Aplin, was not up to his best on Friday. Hitting in the seven spot, Derr finished the game 0-4 at the plate with three strikeouts. The one ball he did hit into play? A weak grounder to second.
Derr’s average, sitting above .300 for the early portion of the season, has fallen significantly in ACC play. In his 17 conference games, Derr is hitting .145 with 17 strikeouts in 48 at-bats. As expected, his overall batting average has subsequently dropped off to .223.
It’s no major cause for concern at this point as he is just a freshman after all, but the high-upside utility player once pegged to potentially supplant Matt Henderson as the starting second baseman has run smack into the freshman wall and can’t seem to climb over it.
2. For three innings on Friday, Sands looked the starter you would expect for your Friday guy, allowing no runs on one hit to a tough Virginia lineup. When it went south, though, it went that way quickly and drastically.
Sands allowed four straight baserunners to reach base after recording the first out of the fourth inning, one by walk, two by single, and the last by error.
Sands’ problem of late has been that he is quite susceptible to the big inning. Once things start going bad, he has trouble righting the ship. Friday was no exception. He may have escaped the fourth, but the damage had been done as UVA plated three runs, two earned. He did not make it out of the next inning, however, leaving after 4.1 innings with a runner on third who eventually scored.
In the outing, which went down as a no decision, Sands again underwhelmed in strikeouts, racking up just three despite having the best stuff in the weekend rotation, and was a bit shaky in control, issuing three walks.
3. Florida State may have committed just one error in the win over the Cavaliers, but it was poorly timed in the flow of the game and was a doozy at both ends of the play.
With Sands struggling in his fourth inning of work, he was in no way helped by a grounder hit Walls’ way at short which he fielded cleanly before throwing well beneath Drew Mendoza’s glove at first. Now, Mendoza, who is admittedly still learning the position after transitioning over from third about a month ago, could have done better to at least keep the throw in front of him, stopping it before it got past him, but he did not and the mistake led to an unearned run, giving UVA a 4-2 lead in the process.
The win improves Florida State to 26-16 (11-10 in ACC) on the year, moving the Seminoles to within a half game of the No. 5 spot in the ACC standings with 8 regular-season ACC games remaining. Saturday’s game between FSU and Virginia is slated for a 1 PM start and is scheduled to see Tyler Holton (5-1, 2.92 ERA) throw for the Seminoles against UVA’s Noah Murdock (2-1, 3.00 ERA).