May 14, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
RALEIGH, N.C. - Florida State's Rafael Lopez appears quite comfortable in the leadoff spot, even if it's only a temporary move.
Lopez opened Friday's game with a solo homer to right, then slammed a two-run shot in the third - his fifth and sixth of the season - that staked the Seminoles to a lead they never relinquished, en route to a 9-4 victory over NC State.
The fast start and another stout effort by staff ace Sean Gilmartin moved the sixth-ranked Seminoles (38-12, 17-8 ACC) a step closer to their fifth ACC Atlantic Division title in six years.
Gilmartin (9-1) turned in 7.1 innings of five-hit work, posting nine strikeouts without issuing a free pass for the fifth time this season. Though he was touched for four runs, they were all unearned, courtesy a less-than-stellar, four-error defensive performance by the Seminoles. The junior left-hander extended his streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to 15.
"Gilly was a warrior," FSU head coach Mike Martin said. "There's no two ways about it. We did not play well behind him, but he kept his poise and kept getting us in the dugout. We never back up from a win, but that was ugly."
With nine strikeouts, Gilmartin pushed his career total to 298; just one behind former Seminole star at No. 1 overall draft pick Paul Wilson, for 10th on the school's all-time list. It was his 13th consecutive quality start, dating to last year's College World Series.
What made the performance even more impressive was the 91-minute weather delay Gilmartin and the `Noles endured midway through the contest. FSU's ace had thrown just 43 pitches when play was stopped in with one out in the fifth after an RBI single by Andrew Ciencin pulled the Wolfpack (28-12, 11-14) within 3-1.
"It's tough to deal with mentally to go out there and throw four innings and have to stop everything once you were getting into a roll," Gilmartin said. "After that you just have to calm down and relax and take it as a new ball game pretty much. You just have to slow everything down. ...
"I felt fine coming back out. No problems at all. Coach (Jamey) Shouppe and I talked about it - if I had anything remotely tight or sore to stop, but I felt fine."
The Wolfpack made it a one-run game when Cameron Conner, the first batter to face Gilmartin after the delay, grounded into a run-scoring fielder's choice.
The teams traded runs in the seventh. Florida State got one of those runs back when Mike McGee walked, stole second and raced home from third on a two-out wild pitch. State countered when Conner reached on shortstop Justin Gonzalez's second error of the game, Matt Bergquist singled and Chris Diaz dropped down a bunt single, loading the bases with no outs.
Gilmartin, however, minimized the damage. Chris Schaeffer's run-scoring sacrifice pulled the `Pack within 4-3, but Gilmartin struck out John Gianis and Brett Williams to strand two on and preserve the lead. FSU countered with two runs in the top of the eighth when Gonzalez doubled, Parker Brunelle was hit by a pitch and Sean O'Brien grounded to Bergquist at second. The ball squirted into the outfield, as Gonzalez and Brunelle raced home for a 6-3 FSU lead.
Two throwing errors by Lopez - who was making his second start at third base - following infield singles brought an end to Gilmartin's night. Daniel Bennett came on and worked 1.2 innings for his 10th save. He had plenty of cushion to finish the job as the `Noles scored three times in the top of the ninth on as Gonzalez and Robby Stahl sandwiched RBI singles around Taiwan Easterling's run-scoring sacrifice fly.
"There's no excuse for all of us," Lopez said of the defensive miscues. "The conditions were tough. The field was wet, but we've got to work thought and battle through that and hopefully you don't see that again the rest of the weekend."
Lopez more than made amends at the plate, leading an 11-hit attack as the Seminoles won for the 14th time in their last 16 games.
"It's not bad," said Lopez, who was 3-for-5 with a walk in his second game as the leadoff batter. "I haven't really hit there since high school and maybe a little bit of JUCO. It's different. And it's fun."
McGee and Gonzalez contributed two hits for the Seminoles, who will send junior right-hander Hunter Scantling to the mound on Saturday. NC State will counter with right-hander Cory Mazzoni.
The 6:30 p.m. game is sold out as local hero and American Idol contestant Scott McCreery will be on hand to throw out the first pitch.