There are tough pills to swallow and then there is what happened to the Florida State baseball team in its opening game of the College World Series.
FSU, which led nearly the entire game against LSU from the second at-bat through to the bottom of the eighth inning, squandered multiple chances at the plate to pad its lead while showing its true colors in the end, blowing a golden opportunity to advance into the winner’s bracket of the College World Series after a 5-4 loss to the Tigers.
What allowed FSU to lead nearly the entire game and what ended up costing them in the end? Let’s take a look:
1. The top of the Florida State order led the Seminoles’ production at the plate.
That started from the very beginning as FSU shortstop Taylor Walls led off the game with a walk before third baseman Dylan Busby destroyed a ball to straightaway center for a two-run home run.
The next time around, Walls led off the third with a double to right. He was promptly knocked in, again by Busby, who had FSU’s first three RBI.
Combined, Walls and Busby were 3-7 with a homer, a double, three walks, three RBI and all four of FSU’s runs, leading by example while showing why they were both top 100 draft picks in this week’s MLB Draft.
2. Part of FSU’s success at the plate can be attributed to the Seminoles knack for getting leadoff batters on base.
In all, FSU got its first batter of the inning on base in eight of its nine innings at the plate. That runner, who was Walls in each of these situations, came around to score in each of the three innings in which the Seminoles scored a run.
Still, many of these prime chances went wanting and came back to hurt FSU in the end.
3. FSU ace Tyler Holton hardly had his best stuff in FSU’s CWS opener. LSU had him gameplanned about as well as any team I have seen prepare for him this season and it showed as he was hit hard throughout his outing.
As aces do, though, he stayed in and battled.
He worked into the eighth inning having allowed three runs on six hits to a very talented LSU lineup. Then, due to a mix of poor fielding (which will be discussed below, believe me) and maybe staying in the game a smidge too long, Holton’s outing ended with him in line for the loss.
Although not up to his best, Holton hardly deserved to be tagged with the loss. He countered common pitching logic, getting better as the game progressed while
1. FSU’s team fielding percentage of .971 was the lowest of the eight-team field heading into the College World Series.
This doesn’t tell the whole story of the Seminoles’ defense this season, though.
Of late, FSU’s defense had been much improved, with the Seminoles even putting together a stretch of 56 error-free innings near the end of the regular season.
That being said, with the nation watching FSU’s CWS opener in primetime, an all-too-familiar sight occurred as the Seminoles’ defense collapsed.
Of LSU’s five runs, two were scored inexplicably from first base.
In the first inning, just after Busby staked FSU to a 2-0 lead, catcher Cal Raleigh let a third strike bounce away from him, allowing the batter to take first on a dropped third strike.
But that only tells the beginning of this story. Raleigh bobbled the ball so drastically that the runner who started the play at first and was running on the play rounded third and came around to score thanks to Holton not covering home plate.
The second and more egregious mistake came in the eighth inning. With a runner on first again and the Seminoles leading 4-3, a single to right was fumbled by right fielder Steven Wells Jr., allowing both runners to move up to second and third. Then, Wells’ throw in was off target and the runner on third took off for home. Busby fielded the ball and threw home in plenty of time to get the out at home, preserving FSU’s lead, but the throw was dropped again by Raleigh, allowing the tying run to score.
It’s one of the most ridiculous baseball sequences I have ever seen and it perfectly summarizes FSU baseball in Omaha.
Death by a thousand self-inflicted cuts.
2. For as strong as FSU’s offensive showing was in some ways, the Seminoles squandered a number of prime opportunities to pad their lead and really put the pressure on LSU.
The Seminoles ended the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings at the plate with a double play.
Across the nine innings, FSU was 4-21 with runners on base (.190) and 2-8 (.250) with runners in scoring position. This led to the Seminoles stranding seven runners on base.
3. It’s hard not to view the FSU ninth inning as Mike Martin hitting the panic button.
After a leadoff single by Matt Henderson, Martin elected to pinch hit Nick Derr for Wells. Now, Wells is hardly a power bat at the plate, but Derr had struggled mightily since the beginning of the ACC schedule, hitting .140 in conference play (8-57).
Perhaps the move was to bunt, but it wasn’t and Derr watched strike three. One out.
Then, Martin brought in another pinch hitter, Kyle Cavanaugh for center fielder JC Flowers. Flowers has been a massive slump of late, sure, but it was Cavanaugh’s 21st at-bat of the season. To decide to pinch hit someone who was a non-factor through most of the season facing a one-run deficit in the top of the ninth inning of the College World Series is an highly questionable decision.
Cavanaugh struck out and, just like that, FSU had racked up two outs behind batters who were not prepared for the stage they were thrust onto.
With the loss, FSU now has the tall task of playing out of the loser’s bracket of an extremely talented field.
It begins Monday at 2 PM with an elimination game against Cal State Fullerton. Should FSU win that one, it will have to take down the loser of Monday’s LSU/Oregon State game on Wednesday, and then would have to beat the winner of that winner’s bracket game twice in a row.
Yes, this team has done well with its back against the wall this year, but this test will be the toughest the Seminoles have faced all season.