May 3, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Robert Benincasa has been looking for a sign; something positive to validate his sizeable skill-set. Florida State's sophomore right-hander found it at the most opportune time Tuesday night at Jacksonville.
On in relief of starter David Trexler in the second inning, Benincasa struck out a career-high six in a season-best five innings to keep the sixth-ranked Seminoles in the game.
FSU capped a late rally with a three-run ninth, highlighted by Justin Gonzalez's towering two-run homer, to defeat the Dolphins 8-5 at John Sessions Stadium.
"Any time you're on the road playing a club as talented as JU (and) you fall behind three runs, it's just a credit to our young men for fighting to get back in it," said FSU coach Mike Martin. "We had some pick-me-ups, certainly Benincasa, Boomer [Brian Busch] and Daniel [Bennett]. ... I'm very, very pleased because I know how tough the next 10 games are. I guess you might say each game is preparing you to play in a regional."
The Seminoles (34-11) demonstrated both resilience and perseverance after spotting the Dolphins (26-17) a 3-0 lead in the second. After retiring JU in order in the first, Trexler ran into trouble quickly as the Dolphins loaded the bases on a double, error and a walk. Alex Swenson's two-run single to left put FSU in a 2-0 and Trexler's day ended when he hit the next batter with a pitch, reloading the bases with no out.
Benincasa issued a four-pitch, RBI walk to Esterlin Perozo but retired the next three Dolphins in order.
"In that situation I just wanted to minimize the damage as much as I could," said Benincasa. "Walking the first guy on four straight pitches definitely wasn't the start I wanted. ... I'm glad we were able to get out of that situation and keep it as close as possible."
FSU went to work on erasing the deficit in the third on Rafael Lopez's two-out, two-run single to left. The Dolphins got one of those runs back on Adam Brett Walker's 10th homer of the season - a leadoff, line drive shot over the wall in the power alley - in the home half for a 4-2 edge. Mike McGee delivered a counter-punch with a two-out, RBI double in the top of the fourth.
Meanwhile, Benincasa was settling in. He limited the Dolphins to two hits and just one run and finishing his five-inning stint by striking out the side in the sixth.
"It was definitely good, especially this time of year, when you're heading into the postseason," Benincasa said of his performance. "You need to be ready. Especially as a pitcher, you want to have that confidence. I think it kind of showed that after getting used to the mound and getting used to pitching, my innings kept getting better and better. ... The last inning was my best inning. It shows, hopefully, how I'm going to be. The more I pitch the better I'm going to do in the long run."
Benincasa gave way to Brian Busch (4-1), who was the benefactor of FSU's comeback, securing the win after pitching the seventh. The `Noles tied the game in the top of the seventh when Sherman Johnson (3-for-3) singled and stole second, then scored from third on Jayce Boyd's two-out, bunt single.
"It surprised me," Martin said of Boyd's bunt to the third base side of the pitcher's mound. "It took them by surprise. ... It was his call all the way. I would love to say I told him to do it."
FSU took the lead in the eighth on Johnson's RBI single to right after Gonzalez walked and stole second and third. The `Noles seemingly broke the game open with a three-run ninth. James Ramsey extended his hitting streak to 23 games - the fourth longest active streak in the nation - with a leadoff single, stole second and scored on Boyd's RBI single to left. Boyd was thrown out trying to advance on the play, but the rally continued with a Lopez double, setting up Gonzalez.
The sophomore shortstop's sixth home run of the season disappeared into the light stanchion in left field, leaving no doubt from the time it came off the bat.
"I was happy to hit it hard," said Gonzalez, who came into the game in a 2-for-14 funk at the plate. "I was hitting the ball hard this past weekend at Miami, but they weren't falling. That one fell. Luckily it went out of the park."
Jacksonville, which was outhit 13-8, mounted their own ninth inning rally from an 8-4 deficit, but could not come up with punishing big hit against FSU closer Daniel Bennett.
Bennett worked out of a bases loaded jam and secured his eighth save when he struck out Matt Frank to seal the win.
McGee, Boyd, Lopez and Gonzalez each collected a pair of hits for the Seminoles, who will entertain UCF in a three-game, weekend homestand, beginning Friday.