Feb. 27, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Making his second start in six days, Florida State junior Gary Merians didn't take his best stuff to the mound for Sunday's series finale against Hofstra.
It didn't matter.
Merians combined with four relievers on a two-hit shutout, amassing 12 strikeouts in a 7-0 victory before 4,386 fans at Dick Howser Stadium.
"If you can hold a team to two hits, you've got to like your chances," Merians said. "I don't like walking people, but I'll take that [a two-hitter] any day."
The eighth-ranked Seminoles (7-0) registered their third shutout of the season; the most in a season since matching that total in 2008. Merians (2-0) surrendered singles to Hofstra's Taylor Stuart in the first and fourth innings, and exited with a career-high six strikeouts and three walks after five innings.
Stuart's hits were the only ones by the Pride (0-6) over the final 16.1 innings against the Seminoles in the three-game series. He was the only Hofstra batter to reach third base in Sunday's capper, singling to lead off the fourth, swiping second and moving to third on a sacrifice bunt following a Merians walk.
Merians got a strikeout and a groundout to end the threat in the fourth, then needed a diving catch from Seth Miller in the fifth and his own unassisted putout at first on a comebacker, to overcome two walks in the fifth.
"I was kind of upset with myself," Merians said. "Usually, I throw my fastball where I want to. Today I struggled a little bit, but happily enough, I got out of that jam without giving up a run.
"I have to think that coming back a little quicker, the command wasn't there. Luckily today I had a good change-up to offset the fastball that wasn't what I wanted it to be. With these guys, I can throw it over the plate and I've got so much confidence in our defense I'll let them hit it at one of them."
Defensively, the Seminoles back the pitching staff with a flawless effort in the field. Offensively, they registered their seventh consecutive double-digit hits game and continued their trend of producing with two outs.
Jayce Boyd's two-out RBI single to right staked the Seminoles to a 1-0 lead against Hofstra starter David D'Errico in the first. FSU tacked on a run in a second, courtesy a walk and back-to-back singles by Devon Travis and Sherman Johnson.
Johnson, who enjoyed a career-high 4-for-4 performance, drove home Justin Gonzalez. The junior third baseman was happy break what he described as a "mental block" by reaching four hits for the first time. His previous career-high was three hits, which he had accomplished seven times.
"I've never had four hits and like (assistant coach Mike Martin, Jr.) always stresses, when you're having a good day you can't give away at-bats because you're going to want them back at the end of the season," Johnson said, who walked in his final at-bat.
FSU head coach Mike Martin appreciated Johnson's patient contributions at the plate.
"Sherman obviously had some very good swings. What impressed me was his last at-bat, after going 4-for-4 and didn't rush into anything trying to get five. He just stayed disciplined and ended up walking. It is quite a credit to him."
With Merians holding the Pride at bay, the Seminoles finally got some breathing room, with a little help from their Long Island, N.Y. visitors. They parlayed a walk, two singles and a pair of Hofstra errors into a two-run fourth, pushing their lead to 4-0. James Ramsey (3-for-3) contributed an RBI single to the cause.
It could have been much easier. FSU stranded 11 base runners - seven in scoring position - through the first seven innings. Mike McGee, who set down the Pride in order in his first pitching appearance in the top of the eighth, predictably put an end to the LOB issue in the home half of the inning. He hammered a Stephan Kungl offering over the left field fence for a two-run homer - his second of the weekend.
Since the start of last season, McGee has now homered in eight games when he's made a mound appearance.
"When I came into the dugout after I hit that, the guys said, `I saw that coming,'" McGee said, cracking a smile.
Taiwan Easterling capped the scoring with an RBI ground rule double - his first career extra base hit - later in the eighth for the final margin.
After coming through seven games unscathed, the Seminoles are about to embark on their toughest test yet on Tuesday at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, when they take on rival Florida in the second game of the Florida Four Classic. The Gators are ranked No. 1 in two of four major national polls heading into the contest, which is scheduled to start around 7 p.m. and be televised on CSS.
"You want to get that confidence built up as a team and that feeling of a winning club," McGee said, following the Hofstra sweep. "When you go into every game knowing you have a shot, it helps your team a lot."