Florida State Shows Potential With Regionals Sweep
ATHENS, Ga. — Little has come easy this season for Florida State. It lost a home series to Boston College and was no-hit at Stetson. It went 1-5 against in-state rivals Florida and Miami. As it opened a mid-April series against Clemson, it was 19-13 and its RPI was pushing 100.
But the young Seminoles had talent all along and they would show flashes. They swept that series against Clemson and followed it up with a series win at Virginia. It was all enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament, albeit as a No. 3 seed in the Athens Regional, hosted by Georgia, the No. 4 overall seed in the tournament.
No matter. Florida State had extended its consecutive regionals streak to 41 and assured Mike Martin, who earlier in the year passed the 2,000 career wins milestone, of a final chance to chase the national championship that had eluded him and the Seminoles during his legendary 40-year career.
Finally, at a windswept Foley Field in Athens, Florida State put it all together. It beat Florida Atlantic, 13-7, Friday in the opener, setting up a showdown Saturday night with Georgia in the winners’ bracket. It routed Georgia and righthander Emerson Hancock, a candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, 12-3, to move on to Sunday’s final. And in the rematch, Florida State again routed Georgia and righthander Cole Wilcox, also a potential first-round pick in the 2020 draft, 10-1.
Florida State now advances to super regionals to play Louisiana State. The Seminoles put on a comprehensive performance all weekend, outscoring their opponents 35-11.
It was the performance Florida State had been searching for all season.
“To say I am happy is an understatement,” Martin said. “We will battle you; we will compete, and the guys up here know that the guys on the bench are pulling hard for them. They are Seminoles. They play their hearts out even though they never put on a glove.
“That is what we get out of coaching, is seeing a team come together.”
Florida State’s impressive all-around weekend was in sharp contrast to its performance in regionals the last two years at home. In 2017, Florida State lost the opener against Tennessee Tech before fighting back through the losers’ bracket. Last year, it went 0-2, losing to Samford in the opener and then getting stunned on a walk-off home run by Mississippi State in an elimination game.
Perhaps Florida State was tight the last two years. Regional hosts enjoy an incredible advantage, but they also face far more pressure and they often play tight. Or maybe the impending end of Martin’s career has given the Seminoles a boost.
Whatever the reason, Florida State played inspired baseball in Athens.
“I can’t even explain the feeling,” said shortstop Mike Salvatore, who was named MVP of the regional. “It is a lot better feeling this time around, I will tell you that much.”
Florida State got a total team effort. Third baseman Drew Mendoza and righthander C.J. Van Eyk, its top two prospects in the next two drafts, both delivered. Mendoza went 7-for-15 with two home runs and three doubles in the regional, and Van Eyk outdueled Hancock on Saturday night, holding Georgia to three runs in eight innings.
Florida State also got strong contributions from veterans like Salvatore, who went 9-for-14 with a home run, a double and eight runs out of the leadoff spot. He is now the Seminoles’ leading hitter at .341/.430/.549 and over the last year, dating back to his performance in the Cape Cod League, has played his way into becoming a solid senior sign this week in the draft.
Martin even dipped into his bench to great success. Outfielder Tim Becker, who played on the Florida State club team the last three years before this fall trying out for the Seminoles, had started just three times before this weekend. He started every game of the regional and hit his first three career home runs.
So, what’s changed for Florida State since those bleak moments this season? Martin credited his coaching staff of recruiting coordinator Mike Martin Jr., pitching coach Clyde Keller and volunteer assistant Tyler Holt and the culture that has been built in Tallahassee over the last four decades.
“I think what got us here is we’ve got the right people in our program,” Martin said. “From the players to the coaches, to the administration. Just got to keep battling.”
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Put it all together, and the Seminoles are a much different team than what they showed for long stretches this season. They are a team that has a real chance to win a super regional against LSU. And if Florida State gets to Omaha, playing with the combination of momentum and inspiration, a storybook ending can’t be ruled out.
Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said he knew it would be a challenge when he saw Florida State drawn into the Athens Regional. After seeing the Seminoles up close for three days, he came away impressed with their ability.
“It’s a tough draw, let alone being a three seed,” Stricklin said. “That’s not a three seed. The team you saw here this weekend, that’s one of the top teams in the country.”
Florida State this weekend played like the preseason top 10 team it was. Now the challenge will be to sustain that success in super regionals against another tough opponent with a trip to Omaha on the line.
Much of the attention will be on Martin as his career draws to a close. He said he is starting to feel the end, but, as always, he is quick to turn the attention back to his players.
“It’s about these guys, and I want very much—very much—for them to go to Omaha,” Martin said. “I’ll make that as clear as I possibly can, it’s about them. I want them to get there.
With another weekend like Florida State had in Athens, that might just happen, giving the Seminoles the chance at a perfect ending to an imperfect season.