OMAHA, Neb. – Trailing 3-1 in the sixth inning, Florida State head coach Mike Martin would’ve signed for an extra innings affair with Arizona in Game 2 of the College World Series.
After all, his Seminoles were 3-0 in extra inning games this season. A spot with a healthy bullpen where he wouldn’t mind being, trying desperately to win the team’s opening game in Omaha for the first time in five tries.
He got his wish thanks to a two-run double by freshman John Holland in that sixth inning to tie the game off Wildcats’ ace Kurt Heyer following a leadoff error by third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean which opened the door.
“I got down 0-2 and saw his breaking ball, definitely knew what he had and what he was going to try to be throwing,” Holland said, “he left the pitch over the plate that I got a barrel on. It was definitely a boost to get that hit and put us right back in the game and it was like the whole dugout was rejuvenated.”
Except FSU didn’t get much else going after that. Back-to-back doubles in the Arizona 12th inning gave the Wildcats the lead – the second from Johnny Field, driving in his 44th run of the season and seventh consecutive game with an RBI.
It was the second time Field had seen Benincasa, with the first coming in a two-pitch at-bat to end the ninth inning on a groundball to shortstop. He learned his lesson.
“The first time up I had an opportunity to get that hit here and put us up, didn’t come back, threw back-to-back sliders on me, pulled off one and just hit it right back up the middle,” Field said. “The second at-bat I thought he was going to do the same thing, come at me with sliders but I was looking for something over the plate and he made a mistake right down the middle. I stayed back on it and put a good swing on it.”
It was off a hard-luck loser in Florida State closer Robert Benincasa – who entered with a 1.25 ERA and 15 saves in 2012. His four innings of work was a season-high, which included striking out the side in the 11th inning and five overall. But in a three-pitch span in the top of the 12th, Arizona had the lead. That’s baseball.
“[Benincasa] has just been a work horse and a tremendous lift to our baseball team all year,” Martin said.
Now the Seminoles are in a familiar spot, having never won a national championship and staring at an elimination game in Omaha. What’d Martin tell his team after?
“In the huddle, coach was talking about what South Carolina did two years ago when they lost their first game, and he was just saying why couldn’t it be us?” Holland said. “I think it’s a mindset everybody’s going to take on coming forward. It’s tough, but we’ll forget about it. And we’ll be ready to go Sunday.”
HEYER POWER: While Arizona junior right-hander Kurt Heyer has been a workhorse on the mound as the Wildcats’ No. 1 starter, Friday night’s 12-inning game against Florida State proved no one man can do it all on the mound.
Heyer, a Louisville Slugger Second Team All-American, tossed 7.2 innings in the start against the Seminoles – his 12th consecutive start pitching at least that far into a game. He ranks second in the nation with an average of 8.09 innings per start (minimum 10 starts).
But, sometimes, you just need a little relief.
Thanks to the consistency of Heyer and the rest of Arizona’s starting rotation, the Wildcat bullpen had only pitched 1.2 innings of relief in the squad’s first five NCAA postseason games. But head coach Andy Lopez had to put his bullpen to good use against FSU as freshmen right-handers Tyler Crawford and Matthew Troupe combined for 4.1 innings of relief in the 4-3 extra-inning victory.
“Heyer is no question quite a competitor to go out there and do what he did, and then the left-hander Crawford came in and just really kept everything together,” FSU head coach Mike Martin said. “And then Troupe really finished it up.”
Despite the Wildcat bullpen’s lack of experience in the postseason, Lopez was confident they could get the job done.
“I really felt like these guys would be ready to go the things they do on a day in, day out basis and the drills we go through, our bullpen’s extremely intense, and I joke with our guys the safest place I’ve ever known as a bullpen I can get bit by a snake at my house, but I can’t do that in a bullpen,” Lopez said.
“Sometimes bullpens have to get a little tougher and our pitchers hear that comment a lot. I don’t want it to be a safe place. I want it to be a tough environment. Our bullpen is usually pretty tough.”
Together, Crawford and Troupe did not allow a run, gave up two hits, did not walk a batter, and struck out four Seminoles. Troupe picked up the victory, improving to 5-1 on the season.
“We do not win tonight without Crawford and Troupe doing what they did,” Lopez said.
FREE PASSES: In his postgame press conference, Stony Brook head coach Matt Senk talked about the Seawolves’ lack of taking advantage of opportunities, as well as giving UCLA too many chances.
“I don’t think we’ve walked that many people in a month,” Senk said.
Actually Coach Senk, your pitching staff has not walked eight batters all year. The most walks the Seawolves had previously surrendered in a game this season was seven against Fairleigh Dickinson on March 7.
“For whatever reason that happened, that made it very difficult; and, again, UCLA offensively took advantage of the free bases by getting some timely hits,” Senk said.
BATTLING BACK: Stony Brook is no stranger to digging out of a hole in the loser’s bracket. In the Coral Gables Regional, the Seawolves fell to UCF, 9-8, in their second game, and then went on to beat Missouri State once and UCF twice to survive. In the Baton Rouge Super Regional, despite falling to LSU in a back-and-forth 12-inning battle in the first contest, Stony Brook bounced back to take down the Tigers twice as the Seawolves claimed their first spot in the CWS.
“As far as coming back on Sunday, we’ve been in this position before in the Regional, the Super Regional,” senior catcher Pat Cantwell said. “It’s like that. We have to fight back from the bottom. So the team’s got a lot of heart, and we’ll come out on Sunday ready to play and we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
The 2008 Fresno State team, the only other No. 4 seed to advance to the College World Series, also had its’ bumps along the way, but eventually captured the NCAA trophy. The Bulldogs lost to North Carolina during bracket play, and dropped the first game of the championship series to Georgia before coming back to post a pair of wins and notch their names in the NCAA record books.