JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Finishing games had not been a strong suit for Mike Martin’s Florida State team in recent weeks.
That made the Seminoles Tuesday night closing act in a 5-2 win against No. 3 Florida even more satisfying.
Stuart Tapley belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning and closer Mike McGee helped the seventh-ranked Seminoles shut the door in front of 10,708 at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. It was the second-largest crowd to ever watch a college baseball game in the state.
“It was fun to see us play like we’re capable of playing,” said FSU coach Mike Martin, whose team won its fourth consecutive game against Florida in Jacksonville dating to 2008. “I’m just very pleased the way we got it done against a very good Florida baseball team. This is good for college baseball all over our state. This is the biggest game in our state in college baseball. No other schools will draw 10,000.
“It’s only one [game] of a lot, but it’s still satisfying.”
Most satisfying of it all was how the Seminoles (19-6, 6-3 ACC) responded down the stretch. FSU erased an early 2-0 deficit on James Ramsey’s two-run double in the fourth, received brilliant work from the bullpen, then broke the deadlock in the sixth. Ramsey led off the second with his second double, moved to third on a passed ball and scored when UF second baseman Josh Adams failed to catch Jayce Boyd’s wind-blown fly ball in the infield.
Tapley turned the 3-2 lead into a three-run cushion in the eighth when his two-out, opposite field blast off Nick Maronde settled in the first rows of the jam-packed right field bleachers.
“For me, it was awesome,” McGee said of Tapley’s blast. “I’ve never seen our team that excited before. Guys in the dugout were going crazy; the bullpen was jumping up and down. That was as big a moment as we’ve had in my career here.
“I love it for Stu. He’s a great guy and to get a big hit like that, I’m so happy for him.”
So was Martin.
“Stuart has been a big part of our program for four years,” Martin said. “We have basically trusted him because we know he’s a winner. … He’s hit a number of big home runs in his career, but I’ll have to admit I don’t know if there’s been one bigger.”
McGee happily took the hill in the ninth and struck out a pair for his fourth save of the season and second against the Gators.
The on-field celebration was a satisfying moment for the Seminoles, who had endured a 1-4 stretch in five consecutive extra-inning games, which began with a 5-4 loss at Florida on March 15. The Seminoles found a way to come through with timely hitting and relief work of Robert Benincasa, Scott Sitz, Brian Busch, Daniel Bennett and McGee, followed starter Hunter Scantling, with six innings of one-hit work.
The Gators (21-5, 4-2 SEC), who came into the game hitting .316, registered just one hit after the first inning.
“I would say that our pitchers were pretty impressive tonight,” Martin said, tongue-in-cheek.
It didn’t start quite that way. Florida catcher Mike Zunino continued his torrid streak with bat in hand. His RBI double into the left field corner extended his hitting streak to 14 games and gave the Gators a 1-0 lead in the first. Two innings later Zunino made Scantling and the Seminoles pay for a leadoff walk, an error and a hit batter with a run-scoring sacrifice to center field.
Florida starter Anthony DeSclafani sailed through the first four innings, facing only one batter over the minimum as the Seminoles failed to muster a hit. The complexion of the game, however, changed quickly in the fourth.
Sherman Johnson reached on a bad-hop single to the right side and McGee sliced a double down the right field line, which brought UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan to the mound. With the Gators’ closer on a controlled start, O’Sullivan turned the ball over to left-hander Steven Rodriguez.
Ramsey sent Rodriguez’s first pitch into the gap in deep right-center, as McGee chased Johnson home with the tying run.
The Gators’ lone hit after the first was Preston Tucker’s opposite field flare single in the seventh off Scott Sitz (3-1), who ironically enough, picked up the victory with one inning of work. It was Sitz’s second win of the season against Florida and the third of his career.
Finishing strong, something that evaded the Seminoles during their recent string of extra-inning and one-run games, may be just the thing Martin’s team needs moving forward.
“I’m hoping it is,” McGee said. “We’ve had a lot of struggles and a lot of fights over the last several games. This one, I hope we finally got over that hump and we can take this win and roll with it.”
Count Tapley among those who believes it could be a momentum-changing victory.
“This club is a very different club,” Tapley said. “We don’t win a ballgame without everybody. We can’t win without everybody.
“We really strive for, `It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.’ If we do that, if we finish strong, we’re a hard team to beat. As a whole, we did that very well tonight. Our pen threw exceptionally well.”