June 10, 2010

By Bob Ferrante
Special to NCAA.com

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida State baseball team has learned its most important lessons through losses.

FSU held an 8-3 lead at Virginia on March 13 before the Cavaliers rallied for six runs - against four relievers - in the ninth inning to win.

The Seminoles were 12-2 at that point. For the most part, the season had gone well.

But this was just the first Atlantic Coast Conference series of the season. What if the bullpen couldn't protect leads? Coaches knew the answer: It would be a long season.

The following day, frustrated FSU pitching coach Jamey Shouppe approached junior right-hander Mike McGee about moving from No. 3 starter to closer. McGee jumped at the chance to close for the first time since summer ball before his senior year of high school.

"I love it," McGee said. "I like having the weight on your back. You don't have to conserve your arm for six or nine innings."

The results have been impressive. McGee is 4-0 with 11 saves and a 0.38 ERA, and he has 28 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched. His 11 saves are tied for fifth on FSU's all-time single-season saves list.

McGee is also one of FSU's best hitters, leading the Seminoles in home runs (14) and RBIs (67). He was named a third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball magazine and is a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is awarded to college baseball's top player.

McGee, who on Wednesday was drafted in the 41st round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, has pitched like one of the best closers in the country in a pressure-packed postseason, which continues Friday at noon, when the Seminoles (45-17) play host to Vanderbilt (45-18) in the first of a best-of-three NCAA Division I Super Regional. The series will be televised live on ESPN2.

McGee pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Saturday that helped FSU defeat Oregon, 6-4, to reach the final of the Norwich (Conn.) Regional.

The next day, McGee allowed a leadoff walk but then recorded back-to-back strikeouts and a induced a groundout as FSU knocked off the Ducks 5-3 to win the regional.

He also hit .333 with two doubles and three RBIs in the regional.

"To come out and play as well as we did, in a different setting (Connecticut), shows a lot about the character of this team and how hard they are willing to play," McGee said.

FSU has now advanced to the Super Regional round 10 of 12 seasons since the NCAA introduced the format in 1999.

The fact that FSU made it this far - and is hosting a Super Regional - is striking considering where the Seminoles were in late May. FSU was swept at Clemson to close the regular season and then the Seminoles fell to Miami in the first round of the ACC tournament.

But FSU players found motivation in a pair of ACC tournament losses - specifically Miami Hurricanes losses. FSU players were in the stands in Greensboro, N.C., watching Boston College play Miami on May 27, and the Eagles rallied from a 10-5 deficit in the bottom of the ninth to come back and eventually win the game in the 12th.

"We knew that we were out of it if Miami won that game," FSU coach Mike Martin said. "Our ACC hopes were over, and Boston College literally gave us a lift, which enabled us to play on."

Two days later, Miami lost to Virginia. The Cavaliers' win put FSU in the title game, and the Seminoles defeated N.C. State to grab their fifth ACC championship.

Since being swept at Clemson and then losing to Miami, FSU has won six straight games - and needs two wins to reach the College World Series for the 10th time in 20 years.

"You talk about going from the outhouse to the penthouse," Martin said. "That's what this club has done in the last 10 days."

And then there was another fortunate loss. Vanderbilt defeated Louisville on Monday, which allowed FSU to host the Super Regional. FSU players and coaches were still flying back from Connecticut Monday during the Vanderbilt-Louisville game, and they were getting frequent - but often inaccurate - updates from the flight crew.

"We were getting the pilot to use his radio," Martin said. "He ended up communicating with the Jacksonville people and they were keeping him informed.

"We got a conflicting report from the stewardess at one point that it was 6-1 Louisville. We had two other reports that it was 1-1 and 2-2 ... We found out before we landed that it was a final and that Vandy had won (3-2)."