May 8, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida State donned its customary home gold uniforms for Sunday's critical series-finale against UCF, but it sure did feel like a "Throwback" day at Dick Howser Stadium.
Senior Mike McGee turned in a starting pitching performance reminiscent of his 2009 campaign - limiting the Knights to one hit and a run in seven innings - and helped put a cap on the sixth-ranked Seminoles' 6-1 victory with a solo home run in the eighth inning.
"Somebody said, `Déjà vu,' when he hit the ball out of the ballpark," FSU coach Mike Martin said of McGee. "It seemed that when he pitched on Sunday he hit home run a couple years ago. What was impressive, too, is I could not tell a difference in his fastball from the first inning until the sixth inning. He still had good velocity. He's a strong young man. ... It was a big lift."
Making just his second start of the season, McGee matched his career-high with seven innings of one-hit baseball. It was his longest outing since April 26, 2009 against Wake Forest, back when he was the Seminoles' Sunday starter.
The performance more than atoned for last Sunday's two-inning stint in a loss at Miami. Most importantly, it gave the Seminoles (36-12) an additional boost in their bid to earn a top-eight national postseason seed. UCF (29-19) came into the week with a No. 31 NCAA RPI ranking. FSU entered the week at No. 7 and should not lose any ground after going 3-1, including a road win at Jacksonville (No. 50) on Tuesday.
"This was an important game," Martin said. "You're playing a club with an RPI as high as theirs, we needed the ballgame. You could tell the way guys approached it."
Saturday's 14-10 loss to the Knights, aided by four errors which led to five unearned runs, provided additional fuel for the Seminoles.
"Getting this win today was really big for our team," said McGee, who was 2-for-2 at the plate in addition to shining on the mound. "For our team to be able to put [Saturday's loss] behind us, come out fresh and play the way we did today, I was really proud of the guys."
No one appeared more revved than sophomore second baseman Devon Travis (2-for-4), who committed a pair of errors on Saturday. Travis broke a scoreless deadlock with a two-out, solo homer to left in the home third, then led off a three-run sixth with a double as the Seminoles broke a scoreless tie.
"It was a rough night last night," Travis said. "... It was a good series win and I was definitely one of the guys who had a little extra intensity."
Jayce Boyd followed Sherman Johnson's RBI double in the momentum-changing sixth with his own double - a two-run shot past diving UCF third baseman Derek Luciano - to give the `Noles a 4-1 lead. Boyd, who drove in a game-high three runs to take over the team lead (49) added an RBI single in the eighth that closed out the scoring.
"To get a big hit like that sparks the defense as well," Boyd said of the double. "It's usually the opposite way - defense sparks the offense. It was the other way around."
FSU's defense was brilliant in the series finale, with Boyd digging a couple throws out of the dirt at first, center fielder Taiwan Easterling laying out to snare a sinking line drive and the infield turning three double plays. The `Noles put any notion of a UCF comeback to rest with double plays in the eighth and ninth after the Knights mustered leadoff singles against FSU closer Daniel Bennett.
"We turned three double plays and [Travis] turned them all," Martin said. "There were a lot of big things that went on and the double plays were certainly huge.
"Our guys weren't not really happy with what happened last night and it goes to show you what character there is on this club, the way we got after it - everybody."
Still, no one expected a vintage performance from McGee, who dominated the Knights. He struck out seven, issued just three walks and registered 52 strikes on his 86 pitches.
"I wanted to keep us close to get it to where our relievers could work," McGee said. "That's all I was hoping for, to keep it close. It worked out a lot better. I hit my spots with pretty much all my pitches. I was pretty happy it all worked out."
McGee's lone mistake was a ball he left up, which Luciano sent over the right field screen to lead off the fifth.
"He got done after the seventh and I said, `Mike, look at that hit column,' Travis said, sharing the dugout exchange. "There was one hit. He said, `Dude, I should have never given up that home run.'"
"Mike's just a guy who when you need him, he's going to be there."
"To get a guy out there who is a leader and you look up;, for him to get out there and do what he's capable of doing just puts us in great position to win ballgames and puts a lot of confidence in our team.," Boyd said.
The Seminoles will take that confidence back on the road. FSU travels to Stetson, which boasts a top-20 RPI ranking and has a 6-4 win over the `Noles already, on Tuesday. Sophomore right-hander Robert Benincasa will make his first start of the season.
From there, FSU returns to ACC play with a three-game series at NC State, beginning Friday. The Seminoles hold a three-game lead in the Atlantic Division with six games remaining.