Drew Mendoza Powers Florida State To Victory
ATHENS, GA -- With favorable weather conditions at Georgia’s Foley Field and big bats throughout its lineup, Florida State turned its opening game in the Athens Regional on Friday into a home run derby with six home runs in a 13-7 win against Florida Atlantic. At the heart of the offensive explosion was third baseman Drew Mendoza, who homered twice, putting on a show just a few days before he is expected to be selected on the first day of the draft.
Mendoza, a lefthanded hitter, pulled two massive home runs to right field, raising his season total to 16. He also scorched a ball down the left field line, beating FAU’s shift, for an easy double. After his 3-for-5 day at the plate, Mendoza is hitting .315/.481/.629 with as many walks as strikeouts (64).
Mendoza now is 6-for-8 in his last two games and has collected four extra-base hits. He said he’s feeling good at the plate.
“Timing, I think, is everything in hitting,” he said. “Georgia’s got a great hitters’ park, so I think that attributes a lot to our success today, but timing is everything in hitting.”
The big offensive day helped the Seminoles get off to a strong start in their NCAA Tournament campaign, as they look to go on a run in head coach Mike Martin’s 40th and final postseason appearance. The all-time winningest coach in NCAA history will retire at the end of the season and is still chasing his first national championship.
Mendoza wasn’t the only hitter feeling it at the plate Friday. Florida State outfielder Tim Becker, who walked on this season after impressing the coaching staff at a tryout, hit his first two career home runs in the win. FAU outfielder Bobby Morgensen also hit two homers.
Florida State hit six home runs, tying their season high (Feb. 23 vs. Youngstown State). Mendoza said the Seminoles could tell during batting practice the ball was jumping, but they still couldn’t have anticipated having that kind of game.
“You could tell the ball kind of travels,” he said. “I thought Wake Forest, NC State, those parks travel, but I haven’t seen it like this before. To put up six, that was definitely unexpected.”
While some of Friday’s homers were wind aided, neither of Mendoza’s needed any help. He has now hit more home runs than any Seminole since Mike McGee hit 17 in 2010, including 2014 ACC Player of the Year DJ Stewart, who peaked at 15.
FAU coach John McCormack said while the Owls’ game plan against Mendoza didn’t work, it was simply his day.
“We tried to get the ball in, and he was able to handle that left on left,” McCormack said. “I thought early we had a good mix. But when you keep giving a guy that good that many opportunities, he’s going to hurt you and he did. He had some really nice swings today.”
While Mendoza’s home runs were prodigious, him showing that kind of power isn’t surprising. He’s long shown plus raw power and has gotten to it pretty well in his career – he now has 33 home runs in 161 games at Florida State.
What he did Friday that was unexpected was taking the ball the other way in the ninth inning. With the Owls aggressively shifting him to the right side of the field, Mendoza slashed inside the left field line for an easy double.
“He really tried to go the other way on that and that was encouraging,” Martin said. “You don’t want to be looked at as a guy that will be put in that shift in the rest of his career. As long as you take that thing the other way two or three times, coach over there gets an attitude, tells everybody to play normal and then everything returns to so-called normality.”
Florida State will hope that Mendoza’s locked-in approach at the plate is his normal this postseason. With Friday’s victory, the Seminoles advanced in the winners’ bracket for the first time since sweeping through the 2016 Tallahassee Regional.
Mendoza and the rest of the Seminoles are looking forward to a primetime showdown.
“It definitely feels weird because first time we’ve done it in three years,” he said. “But nothing changes. We’re ready to play whoever we play tomorrow. We’ve got a good turnaround, got time to sleep in and 7 o’clock will be a big one.”
A showdown with No. 4 overall seed Georgia and righthander Emerson Hancock, a candidate to be the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, likely awaits. Florida State will have righthander CJ Van Eyk, a potential 2020 first-round pick himself, on the mound, making for a potentially electric matchup.
But on Friday, that all could wait. Led by Mendoza, the Seminoles broke out their big bats against FAU, showcasing what is possible for their offense when it’s at its best.